The woman in the checkout lane had an overflowing cart of fresh produce.

Produce ID tests can head off misrings

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

The cashier squinted through the first translucent plastic bag, filled with at least 5 pounds of fruit and asked, “Are these the peaches that are on sale?”

“Uh, no — those are organic nectarines,” the customer replied.

Anybody besides me just mutter “Holy Schnikes!?”

Had that customer been less honest, the difference between the on-ad peaches (2 pounds for $1), and the organic nectarines ($2.79 per pound) would have been a negative $11.45 ring for the store.

But it happens. It’s a perfect example of why it’s important to have regular, checker ID tests. It’s easy to confuse a smooth-skin, high-blush peach with a nectarine. Same thing is true between plums and pluots.

Is that a trimmed-down red cabbage or a pricey head of radicchio?

Not every item has a Price Look-Up number. Or sometimes cashiers get in a hurry, or assume because so many are buying big bags of ad product, that all big bags must be ad purchases.

Some chains mandate that produce managers have ID tests, while other chains may not. Either way, it’s a good idea to line one up on a regular basis.

My friend, ex-manager Jerry, and I recently discussed how we used to handle this. One effective method we used involved laying out a selection in those green “banana boats” and placed them on a counter, inside the break room at the store.

Written underneath was the correct name and PLU number of each item. This was also a good way to introduce new or unusual items.

“I’ve seen expensive heirloom tomatoes nearly go down the belt for free,” Jerry said. “The cashier thought they were so misshapen they must be culls.”

He said that by including heirlooms in his test, this was not nearly as likely to happen.

Mistaken identity adds up over time, too.

A produce manager can be as careful as possible with every control point — from close, tight orders to proper rotation and signing and more — only to bleed sales and profits if the last point (checkstands) is compromised.

A manager has to communicate well with the front-end people. They play a large role in the financial success of a department.

Even if you can’t line up an ID test every week, think about setting one up during transition or overlap periods. If you don’t want cashiers to confuse Aussie navels with domestic valencias, put a few of each in the ID test. Same thing with yellow onions versus sweets.

I’m sure you can add to the list. Whatever you take for granted, put that item in the ID test.

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 ensure produce rings up correctly at your store? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.