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

There is something special about people who work in a produce department.

If you have any doubts, venture into any store, in any chain and in any town and speak to the store manager.

That manager will likely touch on these points: A produce crew tends to be a close-knit bunch.

If you could check out the employee files you would see that those who work in produce rarely call in sick. The produce department typically has the highest retention rate in the entire store and the fewest on-the-job injuries, with the least amount of disciplinary problems.

All of these are sure signs of people happy in their work.

While working in produce isn’t always rosy and trouble-free, there remains a higher than average amount of team mentality.

Produce managers and their clerks often perform outside the usual grocery store labor framework. Produce staff members work, stocking and rotating while interacting with customers.

Produce clerks often work unsupervised and, once trained, generally do well with minimal direction. They know what their areas of responsibility are and can pick up the pace, like runners in a race, when the store gets busy.

Produce clerks are, by and large, self-starters. They are able to discern stocking needs based on experience and priority. They know that fast-movers like bananas, lettuce and tomatoes need constant attention, as do ad items.

But the most endearing characteristic of produce people is how they cover each other’s back.

“Working a produce stand is all about looking out for one another,” my old co-worker Rick Kirkpatrick used to say. “If I’m the setup guy, I want to make sure I do everything possible so the person who follows me is in good shape.”

When everyone on a crew shares this philosophy, it’s easy to see how so many produce departments click on all cylinders.

The one-hand-washes-another theory can then extend from one shift to another — up until the closing clerks are putting the final touches on evening displays and doing all the little extras, such as crisping leafy greens for the morning shift or getting other prep work done.

Because produce clerks’ shifts can vary from one day to the next or one week to the next, most are aware of the responsibilities involved. When the cross-training has kicked in, and one shift knows what the next shift requires, they can work to that expectation.

“That’s what we call taking care of your buddy, watching out for the next guy,” Rick said.

There’s a certain satisfaction of working in the produce department: Building displays that entice shoppers and seeing the cause and effect of your labors — with great camaraderie to boot.

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.

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