In a business that demands that no stone be left unturned trying to find excess shrink, here’s a boulder to peek under.

Check the meat or deli case for your shrink

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

The shrink I’m referring to originates not from sloppy ordering or poor rotation habits but in what walks away unaccounted for by way of our friends from the other perishable departments of the store.

You know the drill. A dozen heads of kale here, the same amount of parsley there, destined each morning to line the seafood case or to garnish the fresh ground beef. The list is endless as colorful peppers or green onions adorn deli offerings or crinkle-cut lemons that contrast the bright-orange salmon. You’re all too happy to help, right?

Question: Are you getting credit for it?

Many a deli manager has been caught smuggling cases of produce away in the wee hours of the morning.

“Oh, it doesn’t amount to much,” one said when caught red-, er, green-handed.

No, not one or two cases. Not in a produce department that sells hundreds of cases of produce a day. It’s not like we’re going to miss it, right?

The truth is that such interstore pilfering can add up to thousands of dollars per quarter. An instore system must be in place to credit your department and charge the outlying departments who shop your stand.

Some deli managers say they only take culled items. And if you have culled product that works, all the better. Work with your fellow managers so that distressed produce gets a second chance in soups or can otherwise evolve into the special of the day.

However, like any customer, most deli managers typically prefer top-shelf quality. So plan for it.

A few ground rules will help. Talk to the other department heads and arrange in advance to order quantities of whatever produce is needed to garnish their dishes, line their cases, put into salads and sandwiches or for whatever else they’re making. Knowing this, you can order enough for your normal sales too.

Also, encourage other departments to avoid shopping “off the rack” with you paying a produce clerk to stock things twice. No sense in stripping your case when they can shop the walk-in cooler.

Above all, keep track of items taken and ensure that your department gets the ring. Not just the delivered cost of goods, but extend the transactions to get credit for the retail too. Keep in mind that for every case you purchase from your warehouse, you’re accountable for the retail sales that should result. If it isn’t in the till, the difference shows up as shrink.

And if your produce disappears without either retail or costs accounted for — on average, that’s shrink, times three.

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

Do you have any tips for how to handle shrink? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.