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

Fill a large box with an assortment of fresh produce. What do you suppose that costs?

Strike that. The real question is how much do you think the same box can pay, as in future sales? With a generation of future customers?

This is an excellent time to pick up the phone and call your local high school’s food arts teacher or culinary instructor. They’re starting to drift back to school now to complete their yearly planning. Their format is finalized in this brief window, right before students return.

I know. Just the phrase “school’s starting” can generate a collective moan.

However, this can be a positive time for you as a produce professional. Culinary educators at every level love to get the phone call or in-person visit from the local produce manager, offering to provide a brief, fresh produce seminar to their students.

Representatives from the food industry are always welcomed by food arts teachers. Even if you can only provide a once-a-semester session to one class, many schools will accommodate your work schedule and even invite multiple classes to attend. You’ll impress the teacher. It isn’t often that a seasoned produce manager gets offers to be a guest speaker.

While the time spent may be questionable to some managers, you’ll be amazed at how eager students are to learn about produce.

And you’re just the person to share the knowledge.

In a typical visit to a home economics class, consider loading up an empty banana box or two of produce.

You might bring samples of familiar items, but it’s more fun to throw in items that students may not be as familiar with, such as anise, jicama or lychee nuts. Funding for school programs is usually tight, so the produce that you provide at no cost will be especially appreciated by your host.

Sure, you’ll be there to teach a few produce basics: Produce identification and use, and how to tell when something is ripe, among other points. And you’ll want to bring enough of whichever produce item you intend to sample. Depending on what part of the school year you present, you might consider centering on what’s seasonal for that time of year. Students will pepper you with a lot of questions: where things are from, differences between apple varieties or simply when pomegranates are in season.

However, more than the opportunity to share your produce knowledge is the glorious chance to be a goodwill ambassador from your store and chain. So as the students become heavier purchasers, they’ll remember you — and consider where they want to shop.

That box of produce could very well pay off for years to come.

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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