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

Whenever a produce manager decides to write an order, he or she is about to make at least a couple hundred decisions.

That’s on average how many stock-keeping units are in the average produce manager’s order guide. From this list comes the 90 or so core items that keep a produce department supplied with enough inventory to build displays, sustain sales and provide adequate backup.

Ordering is quite a task, yet many produce managers find themselves rushed to get it done.

One produce director put it this way: “Ordering is the single most important responsibility a produce manager has and one that should be given at least an hour, sometimes more, to complete.”

Imagine for a moment just the first line on a given order guide: Apples, red delicious 80-88ct. These all factor into deciding what to order: How many of this SKU is in inventory? Not only back stock but on display. How large is the display? What is my cost? How is it priced? Since the last order, how many apples have sold? Should the order be boosted to make it an even tie on the pallet? Should I bring in an entire pallet? How is the quality? When can I expect delivery, and when is the subsequent delivery?

After all these factors zip through the mind of a produce manager deciding what to order. Typically, it comes down to this simple formula: Need minus inventory quantity ordered.

Then it’s time to move to line two.

As anyone can clearly see, factors that influence the decision for a single line item takes time even with an experienced produce manager. It’s easy to understand the importance of taking as much time as necessary to write a good order.

Some actions can help minimize the time needed without compromising the accuracy of the order.

  • Take an accurate inventory before starting to write the order. Walk around the back room, detailing inventory of each item. Just as important, walk the sales floor to get a good visual inventory too. Note factors such as quality, price and space allocation.
  • Highlight ad items in the order guide. You are always juggling three balls in the air: What is coming off an expired ad, what is currently on ad and what is in the new ad on the horizon. One effective way to keep up with this is to highlight each weekly ad item with a corresponding color.
  • Work the sales floor as much as possible. When you’re stocking, the tendency to take mental notes of what is moving well and what isn’t naturally kicks in. This helps later on when writing the order.

Or as one old produce supervisor used to say, “Take your time, but hurry up!”

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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