A few weeks ago I spoke about most produce managers would prefer to merchandise their departments freely, without any interference from corporate.

Letting produce managers loose with merchandising may be unwise

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

My position: A chain has to be careful letting produce managers do this, as most need at least some measure of direction.

As a result, I received a couple calls on the subject.

Most produce managers, it was conceded, believe that they don’t need any direction to help them merchandise. After all, they got to their position by carrying out multitudes of tasks successfully. The common plea? Leave me alone to merchandise as I see fit.

In a perfect world, the response to this would be, “Fine. Have at it.” But it’s a lot to risk.

Most chains admit they break up the strength of their produce managers into A, B and C categories. The handful of A-level produce managers could arguably get along fine with minimal merchandising direction. Some chains do indeed give their A managers free reign.

But what most chains can’t do is compromise the standards of how they wish to do business.

A good “standards” definition is difficult to convey to produce managers of any level. A good standard in this scribe’s humble opinion is when a customer is used to certain quality, a distinct look, having plenty of varieties to choose and a good selection of each item — and then going across town to a sister-store, and finding pretty much the same look, with similar quality, service and selection.

I compare it to McDonalds. Whether you go to a restaurant in Portland, Ore., or Portland, Maine, the burger and fries should be pretty much the same. Same thing goes for most grocery chains.

This is why it’s usually a mistake when produce managers try to buy from anyone other than their own distribution center. Chances are, no matter what good deal is out there, the quality is likely different from the standard the chain is trying to set. Chances are pretty good that the grades or packs are different. Also, the street vendor probably doesn’t follow any of the rules mandated for suppliers.

Although it goes against the grain of some purists that favor turning produce managers loose to merchandise as they see fit, it’s really for the sake of consistent standards that set merchandising plans work.

This way the store on the north side of town does things the same way as the store on the south side.
Procedures are the same, as are stock levels and placement. That helps buyers know what is in the stores, helps clerks assimilate when transferring and most of all helps takes the guesswork from the customer who stops in the opposite store to shop.

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.

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