As a produce supervisor, I had a unique perspective from visiting many stores. It didn’t take much time in the job to see common traits of struggling operations and stores that were managed relatively trouble free.

Get a handle on shrink with proper handling and rotationHowever, even when I started years earlier as a part-time clerk working after school I remember the supervisor that visited our store.

His name was Fred, but we nicknamed him (like every supervisor gets a nickname, I suppose) ‘Wella’ — because he initiated conversations with us by saying in his slow, deep baritone, “Well, uh, looks like you’re getting ready to stock the citrus table,” or “Well, uh, how’s sales today?” You get the drift.

But old Fred had a keen eye for the produce business. Our store suffered with high shrink, and I was working the Saturday morning that he visited our produce manager to talk about how to improve.

He didn’t do it in the office, as some supervisors might have done. Instead, he walked the department with produce manager Bob close in tow. And he began in the back receiving area.

“Well, uh, Bob — looks like this load has been sitting here for a while. When did it come in?” Fred asked.

“The truck is unloaded at 1 a.m. by the grocery night crew. My setup guy breaks it down the following morning.” Bob said.

“Well, uh, after he sets up the wet rack, I assume. What’s not good here is that the staging area is too warm. The cold chain is broken if the load is not immediately put away, and this load has been warming up for nearly eight hours.

“You have lost valuable shelf life on everything. But what has really suffered is all the berries, the mushrooms, the sprouts. That’s probably a good chunk of where your shrink is.”

Then Fred walked the back room with Bob. He noticed some poor rotation examples in the walk-in cooler.

“Gotta make sure everyone rotates the older merchandise to the front, so you follow the FIFO (first-in, first-out) rule,” Fred continued in his matter-of-fact delivery. He wasn’t angry, but I could tell he knew what he was talking about, and he was pretty serious.

Then he walked the sales floor, and found a few more examples of rotation problems.

“Make sure your clerks pull off the whole display, clean up the base and start with a new layer or two of product, then rework the older on top, culling and straightening as they go.” Fred said.

“Get with the program. You will eliminate a great deal of this shrink by ordering tight and handling the produce correctly.”

Which we did.

Bob didn’t have much to say besides.

“Well, uh, yes sir!”

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail