Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

A produce manager has to wear many hats: Merchandiser, schedule coordinator, having a sharp eye for what is (and isn’t) selling, good at inventory control, and the list goes on.

The easiest temptation a manager can fall for, then, is become buried in a single project. In the middle of a busy Saturday for example, the manager may decide to catch up on paperwork or single-handedly rotate one of the dry tables. Sometimes when this happens, that project becomes the emphasis and the overall condition of the department can weaken.

As the head of the department, the produce manager should strive to maintain a wide focus.

Ideally, an effective produce manager is more like a busy bumblebee that spends a little time here and a little time there, keeping a good overall perspective.

I watched one area manager do just this recently while I was shopping. He sidled up next to one of his obviously less-experienced clerks.

“Let me help you get started with this display,” he said. “First, get your cart close to your work. This will help you transfer the product quickly and easily. Then you grab several oranges at once, like this — see how the bottom row is placed? Now follow this pattern, and you’ll be just fine.

“Work quickly but watch for culls and don’t make a mess. I expect you to get this display rotated and filled within the next 15 minutes.”

Then the produce manager finished his own cart within a few minutes, stopped at the next table to offer another clerk some instruction. Then he rearranged a couple of signs, wrote out a quick list, and glanced around to make sure things were going the way he wanted before walking quickly to the backroom. In a few minutes, he was back on the sales floor. Buzz.

This work procedure isn’t found in any manager manual. He was doing what I refer to as “lighting a fire under his crew.” You know, getting them moving.

By giving them just enough instruction and encouragement, the produce manager was showing his crew that they had his interest. He also managed to instill a sense of urgency, emphasizing that while care was needed to perform the tasks, there were plenty more to do and a certain amount of hustle was necessary to keep up.

The produce manager succeeded by working closely with members of the crew and letting them know in a positive but firm manner that there was an expectation of high standards, keeping in mind that stocking produce properly is a combination of many skills.

Most impressive of all was that I could tell that the crew enjoyed their job, the enthusiasm and the fast pace.

The “buzz” was there.

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 armandlobato@comcast.net.

Do you have any advice for produce managers? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.