Her name is Jody. Like every produce manager, she rises early and is already thinking about the many details that await her as she drives to work, past blinking traffic lights in the wee hours of the morning.

The best produce managers keep busy

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

She enters the still-closed store and begins work even before punching the time clock, straightening a fixture that was pushed askew and fixing a fallen sign.

Jody ducks into the cash booth and runs the sales report from the following day, following her usual routine.

She raises an eyebrow and knows from the printout that her department was especially busy the night before. This makes her nervous. What is she walking into?

She sets her rolled-up apron on the prep table after greeting the set-up crew. Grabbing the order guide, Jody walks into the cooler, scrutinizing the load that came in the night before and checks off stock levels against her invoice.

She’s looking for pro-rated or missing key items, especially ad items and volume commodities. She can get through the day without broccoli sprouts, but not without broccoli.

Jody always anticipates problems. Any significant supply or quality concerns will tie her up on the phone sourcing product or making adjustments.

Fortunately, the important pieces are in place. Jody scans the schedule, noting when the rest of the crew will arrive, staggered throughout the day. She is grateful her crew doesn’t often call in sick.

So far, she’s satisfied — there’s enough inventory on hand, and the crew is on pace to finish setting up the department soon after the store opens.

Being a “working manager,” Jody quickly sets up a display near the front entrance, making sure this is in place before the area is blocked for last-minute floor scrubbing.

Soon afterward, Jody pushes a cart around the department with several empty boxes. She gets her hands into each display, swiftly straightening and culling and making a to-do list along the way, which she’ll post and assign to her crew: Cut back on this display, widen another; build a spillover on this item, clean that table and so on.

Along the way, Jody expresses thanks to her set-up crew and reminds them nicely (but in a firm tone) to pick up their mess.

With every display at least presentable and free from distressed produce and her crew progressing well, Jody has a good handle on things.

She’s dialed into what needs to be done and who is responsible. Jody knows even though stock levels aren’t 100%, she is free to write an order or jump in and stock, now that the department is prepared to start the day — after a well-deserved break, that is.

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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