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

Work smarter, not harder

It seems we’ve all heard this popular adage through the years, and we waste no time passing it along to the upcoming generations of produce clerks and produce managers.

But what does it mean in real terms?

To me, running an efficient produce department is at the heart of everything we try to achieve:

  • providing the freshest produce available for shoppers;
  • bringing in only enough inventory until the next delivery; and
  • handling the produce as little as necessary, for starters.

Sometimes even these rules can be bent for efficiency’s sake, but only if it makes sense.

Take something as simple as dry onions, for example.

Suppose your store sells seven 50-pound bags per day. Assuming the quality holds up well and is stored in a cool, dry area of your backroom, is it is really best to only order seven units a day (perhaps 10 to account for a little safety stock)? In subsequent days, the aging stock will have to physically be pulled out, new inventory put in its place and the old stock rotated in front. Every day, seven days a week.

Assuming you have a little storage space to work with, it’s usually in the “work smarter” mode to simply order a whole pallet of these same dry onions and stock your display from this delivery until a new pallet is needed. You handle it once off the delivery truck and park the pallet. You save time not having to handle the item so much each day.

Same thing goes for several hardier, lower-respiration items, such as apples, citrus or potatoes. If you have the luxury of storage space and good holding temperatures, you can minimize damage and shrink and use the precious labor savings where it counts — on the sales floor.

Working smarter (and safer) is sometimes as simple as using an electric power jack instead of a manually operated one to move pallets around. Sometimes the term is used for other efficiency-related produce-stocking tasks — such as bringing out everything you need to build a display at once. So you don’t make numerous trips to the backroom for supplies, signs or table matting. You get the drift.

I remember being taught to keep my stocking cart close to the display and the cartons as near to the action as possible. “Get close to your work.” This made sense as I was able to quickly transfer the produce from the shipping container to the display. By doing so we also were able to hand-stack much of what we stocked instead of spilling the produce onto the display.

Working smarter makes us more efficient, but I discovered that neat displays sell more produce too.

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

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