Getting an earful at the corn display - The Packer

Getting an earful at the corn display

05/23/2012 11:10:00 AM
Armand Lobato

Armand Lobato, The Produce AisleHere’s news from the produce aisle: Did you know that corn is out of season?

At least that is what I overheard a middle-aged couple say when they walked past the corn display. It was 10 o’clock on Sunday morning. Hundreds of shoppers were in the store that was at least as big as 60,000 square feet, and dozens were shopping in produce. I just happened to be shopping behind the couple, and they already had several produce purchases in their cart.

The corn in question was certainly not out of season. The corn was obviously left out overnight, and the husks had dried up considerably.

“Who would buy this stuff? It looks awful,” the woman said.

“It’s probably been sitting in a warehouse somewhere,” the husband answered.

With that the couple placed a bunch of bananas in their cart and disappeared into another part of the store.

Armand LobatoIt would have taken just a few minutes to pull all the old corn out of this display and put it into the back room, out of sight. Then it would require just a few more minutes to stock some new corn, taking care of immediate quality perceptions and sales.I wanted to grab the produce manager, who was in the middle of stocking a beautiful display of berries on the other side of the department, and give him a heads-up on the situation. It would have taken just a few minutes to pull all the old corn and put it into the back room, out of sight. Then it would require just a few more minutes to stock some new corn, taking care of immediate quality perceptions and sales.

I also wanted to interrupt the couple’s conversation and explain that spring corn is indeed in season and comes from Georgia, Florida or California this time of year. I wanted to say that this was simply a case of neglect on the store’s part.

Corn is but one of those extra-sensitive, high-respiration items that must be pulled at night, top-iced and stored in the cooler. Then bright and early the following morning a fresh display must be built using fresh stock.

Only then is older inventory rotated onto the display, trimmed, culled and only high-quality ears offered for sale. Sometimes the prior day’s inventory is shucked and wrapped in trays for quick sale.

But, 10 o’clock on Sunday and still no activity on this corn display?

I got the impression that the store was having other problems. The assistant store manager was on his cell phone, straightening the banana display while calling someone to come in to work. However, there were no legitimate excuses. The produce manager and another clerk continued with their stocking duties, unaware of what I had just witnessed.

In a time when shoppers are sensitive to what is locally grown, the second to last thing a produce manager can afford is to neglect displays that the customer could perceive as “not in season.” This couple, after all, stopped shopping for produce at this point.

The last thing a produce manager can afford? Those lost sales.

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.

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Cervando Torres    
Corona, CA  |  May, 30, 2012 at 09:23 PM

Personally, this is the best 10 min. merchandiser I have read from Armand L., Sunday being the busiest day of week for me, BLTS and End Caps are mandatory second after culling the department. My duties as a produce professional doesn't end at my store, it's a 7 days job because I like to visit other retailers to see what I can learn from them, but I can also share my expertise with the produce crew from that retailer. Armand you should've said something to the produce manager, don't stay quite, after all we are in the same profession.

PA  |  June, 03, 2012 at 08:14 AM

Thank you! Key point: Start with fresh stock in the morning, and work yesterday's product, if still in good condition, on top of the newer product. I have been working part-time in produce for 20 years now (I'm a full-time teacher), and it's frightening to see how this simple practice seems to have been abandoned by my current employer. All the way up to produce managers, I constantly see employees "work down" old product, just to dump all the new product on top. The result: slimy green beans, green potatoes, dried up corn, sprouting onions, shriveled mushrooms the list goes on. Also scary: the "dumping" of sensitive items onto displays! I cringe when I see cantaloupes and avocados dumped en masse from their boxes! Don't they know that while the bruises may not appear right away, they will? Every time I bring up these issues, everyone thanks me for my insight and opinion, but the same thing continues. At least now I've been able to vent!

Armand L.    
Colorado  |  June, 04, 2012 at 06:45 PM

Thanks for the sharp point of view! I wondered if someone would ask, 'You wanted to say something-then - why didn't you?' - a fair question. The main point here being that if a department lets standards slip, most customers won't say anything - at least not to the produce manager who might be standing just a few feet away - but in fact are forming their own incorrect conclusions. I just happened to overhear the negative opinion in this case, and the damage that can result.

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