Ah, the good ol’ summertime.

A night crew can help manage summer’s work load

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

With each week volume is growing, challenging your ability to handle everything. You move fast but customers seem to move faster.

One possible solution? Scheduling a night crew.

If you manage a semi load or more of product per day, you might consider taking a page from our graveyard-shift brethren in the grocery aisles. You know these guys. Maybe you even worked with them at some point in your career, as I did: Working all night in cut-off jeans wearing backwards-facing ball caps and listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” while stocking shelves — or as we used to call it, “throwing freight.”

Summer means peak volume for produce. Many times this means pallets of product that doesn’t get put away properly, which leads to struggling to keep up with prep work or tripping over stacks of what you can’t use to get to the product you actually need.

Like the Commodores sang: “It’s gonna be all right, On the nightshift.”

A team is ideal. Envision two or three people that arrive just as the store is closing up for the night. In a perfect scenario, the daily load is just backing into the dock as the team arrives. Air brakes release and the trailer doors roll up to reveal the next day’s supply of fresh produce, piled high and cold to the touch.

The crew moves quickly unloading the truck while another clears room to stage the product. Pallet by pallet the load is put away. Cold things are put into the cooler, ambient-temperature items, such as onions or tomatoes, are stored separately. Everything gets rotated and cartons are clearly dated with a marker.

Bananas get special treatment: carefully de-lidded and air-stacked to slow ripening. This pallet is good, the color is breaking nicely and by morning it will have a have a half-stage more color.

After a couple hours of putting the load away, the backroom gets swept and the invoice checked for shortages and notes left for the manager. Following a break, the team goes to work on the sales floor. The produce manager can designate the night crew for varied tasks: build new displays, stock and rotate in preparation for the following day, remerchandise for ads, price changes, wet-rack set up or cleaning. In the wee hours it’s wide open with no distractions.

With everything put away and displays up and ready, the night crew can then tackle prep work: trimming and crisping leaf items, shucking corn or onions — anything that will streamline operations, minimize shrink and keep the day crew on the sales floor, pushing sales the following day.

That’s when the night crew is sleeping, and dreaming about Pink Floyd.

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 armandlobato@comcast.net.

How do you handle busy summertime shipments? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.