Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

By the numbers. Most produce merchandisers agree that produce managers rarely get into trouble if their gross profit margins hover in the average range. They get in immediate danger however, if the quality on display, customer service provided or stock levels began to suffer.

The thinking is as supervisors we can always work with produce managers to improve the numbers.

What isn’t so easy to fix is getting department standards in line. We depend on produce managers to have enough talent when they attain the position that merchandising, ordering and stock level skills are basically intact.

Along similar lines, I ran into a produce manager I used to work with.

“You’d be proud of me,” he said. “I finished the quarter under budget.”

That statement made me suspicious. So he came in under budget. Great news. Really. I’m happy for him. But he went on and on as if hitting a department budget was the paramount accomplishment.

Not so. Not in in a successful produce operation.

Many things drive a produce department’s long-term success. To be certain, maintaining a budget is an important piece of the puzzle. It’s why numbers are scrutinized so closely at every Monday morning department-head meeting.

We must consider that if hitting a budget was the foremost goal, we might as well replace the banner up against the building. Instead of ‘XYZ Grocers,’ go ahead and call the retail operation something like “We-Hit-Our-Budget Supermarket.” Mission statement: same as the name.

Any store — and by extension, any produce department — has to consider this so they don’t suffer from a mixed sense of priorities.

Selling good-quality produce, following the rules and not taking shortcuts should always be the first objective. A produce department must merchandise well, order carefully, rotate faithfully, anticipate needs as much as possible and be proactive. A good produce manager will constantly be on the lookout and willing to make changes on the fly. Perhaps a shift needs to be scheduled later in the day, or an order might be heavier one day to make a follow-up, busier day a bit easier to manage.

Any budget is simply a guide. The store manager will assign the plan each quarter or operating period. As the period goes on, the budget (primarily labor dollars) allotted is compared to the actual amount spent.

If you are maintaining standards, exceeding sales and building your gross profits, it’s far easier for you (and your store manager) to justify spilling over-budgeted labor dollars. Providing of course, it isn’t too much.

I’d much rather hear, “I exceeded my profit dollars projection” than “I came in under budget.”

The difference, is that the former actually deposits money into the bank.

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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