Allow me to introduce my — um — unreal friend: His name is Russ T. Blade, but he prefers to be called Rusty. He provides material for “The Produce Aisle” when I come up short of ideas.

Prepare for the post-holiday diet sanity

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

Rusty is about 10 inches tall and hangs out near my computer. He runs an equally imaginary, miniature produce department inside my desk. He’s a wily old produce manager, wears a green polo shirt and faded name tag. He is bearded and has lean muscles and a trick back from all the years of lifting cartons. Rusty appears occasionally, but only if he’s on break. He’s your typical produce pro: Hard-working and usually easy-going but not easily fooled. He likes to double-check what I write for accuracy.

Me: So Rusty, the word is out. Readers of the Produce Aisle now know about you. Wearing your usual apron, trim knife and sheath today, I see.

Rusty: Yup, my jeans too. One of the perks of working in produce. At least in my stand. I’m surprised you’re letting people in on our little arrangement.

Me: Thought it was about time. It’s been two years since this column debuted in The Packer. And credit should go where it is due. I like your latest idea — cautioning produce people to be prepared for the New Year’s business.

Rusty: You’re damn right. Err, sorry. I’ll watch the language. To your point, New Year’s business is gonna take those produce departments by storm!

Me: I remember that well. The week between Christmas and New Years, business is mostly flat. Everyone is lulled into a false sense of security. But the “first” business? It’s crazy.

Rusty: Mention how during the holidays customers stuff their faces with fudge and other sludge. Then, afterwards, wham! They rush in, resolving to exercise — and eat better.

Me: Exactly. The first ads of the year are tailored to that end. Fresh produce helps them achieve their goals. Not to mention we’ll take that business any day.

Rusty: You need to mention, for example, how a $40,000-per-week operation can easily balloon to $60,000 — or more — that first week, and remain there. But only if they’re ready. Advise produce managers to order accordingly — and put their fist through the boss’ desk (figuratively speaking),  insisting on enough hours to meet the demand. Or at least try.

Me: Figuratively speaking, of course. Good points, Rusty. You certainly have passion. Thanks for the help — again. So, are you done for the day?

Rusty: Nah. I just finished my merchandising plan for New Year’s week. I’m heading outside for a quick smoke. I’m hoping to quit that nasty habit as of the First (cough). Get typing, would ya?

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.

Have suggestions for how to capitalize on the New Year's diet frenzy? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.