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

What makes a produce department, and by extension, a grocer, successful?

With all the hype in trade journals on the subject, and considering all the marketing that goes into the average chain’s budget, all the way down to tip-toeing into the competition to try to find what they’re doing well — what makes a chain do better than another isn’t really all that elusive.

We hear it often: execution.

This is the term used to define how well a business performs. Especially how they meet (or exceed) customer’s expectations. Certain standards have been established over the years in varying business models.

Take clothing stores for example. It isn’t unusual to have to dig for the correct style or size. Once found, the norm is to wait an eternity to get checked out. It seems that every article has to be key-punched in. It’s a slow, tedious system. Unfortunately for this retail segment, mediocrity is the standard of execution.

In the grocery business, check-out expectations are quite the opposite.

So what defines good execution in a produce department?

Fresh produce should be just that — fresh. Offering as fresh-as-possible produce gives customers the benefit of the maximum shelf life. A high-quality produce department is often cited as the biggest single reason that draws repeat customers. So it’s important to stock only the best available quality and constantly cull displays for best execution.

Bountiful displays equal top execution too, or at least bountiful-looking displays. Massive displays suggest freshness and value. Spread displays out rather than deep. Keep displays neat and level for best impact.

Good selection and variety are often confused as one and the same. Good variety means 10 kinds of apples to choose from. Good selection means that each variety’s display has plenty for the customer to select from. Doing each well is great execution.

Little things add up. Is the signing in place and accurate? Are there plenty of bags and twist-ties on hand? Recipe cards and samples available? Spotless mirrors, clean floors and cleaner scale pans? All these equate to the high-level execution standard.

Friendly, knowledgeable clerks on the floor ready to assist customers.

This is perhaps the best execution point. The better your clerks are trained, the better they can assist customers with everything from picking a ripe watermelon to helping them choose a good pie apple. Experienced clerks anticipate what needs done before the produce manager has to say anything.

All this in place before a customer steps into the produce department. That’s execution.

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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