You’re carefully pushing your produce cart toward the back room, when you hear a little old lady cry out behind you in a shrill voice, “Mr. Produce Man!”

Summer staffing starts now

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

You stop. You can only imagine at this point what the customer could possibly want: A cabbage cut in half? Wanting to know if you have something not yet in season? Maybe she wants a couple of empty boxes.

At that moment, what she surely wants is your attention.

That’s my purpose today, Mr. Produce Manager. You have made it through yet another winter, and one day doesn’t change drastically to the next. But summer is right around the corner and approaching fast.

I stopped you at the back room door today, figuratively speaking, to ask: Are you ready for summer?

As a customer, I want to know if you’re ready laborwise. As a supervisor, it seems most managers that I posed this question to at this time of year expressed the highest confidence.

“Sure,” most of them said. “I have a strong crew with lots of experience. We’ll be fine.”

That statement is the first sign they’re in trouble.

Great, I’d say.

“Let’s take a look at your vacation schedule. OK, you seem to have followed guidelines, not letting more than one or two people out on vacation at any time. So, who will cover for them when they’re gone?”

Usually at this point I’d get the uncomfortable body-language responses: the wince, the biting of the lower lip and the crossed arms.

At this point the manager says he might be able to get a cashier with some produce experience to cover. Or he might have a prospect in a returning college student who works summers. All these answers have too many “mights.”

Moving further along, I’d argue that the cashier’s vacation schedule is equally heavy. What makes the produce manager think he can have that person for even part of the summer? Are details worked out with the store manager?

Too many times securing quality summer help is put off until the last minute. And like the recent NFL draft, the good prospects get picked up early. Wait too long and you might end up with little more than a warm body with little experience. Fact is, with veterans on vacation, peak-volume produce departments are often run with the least experienced crews.

It is best, Mr. Produce Manager, to identify summer help and get them trained. — now.

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

What do you do to prepare for summertime scheduling? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.