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

Every news columnist secretly longs to shell out advice, just like with Dear Abby. I imagine some newly promoted produce director somewhere, afraid to make a mistake. They’re fidgeting in their chair, sending an anonymous e-mail, asking for advice on, say, what five areas to focus on in the new job.

I’m here to help.


Dear Anonymous Produce Director: Congratulations on your new position. It is without a doubt the best job in the grocery executive ranks. Although I’m sure you’re qualified (or you wouldn’t have been hired) for the job, here’s my list of what many consider trouble spots to watch out for.

Being first to market is not necessarily the wisest move. Even though some chains want bragging rights when something special comes on the market, consider that two areas (quality and price) are sensitive issues for your customers. If early season stone fruit is lacking in maturity, it’s best to wait until something more pleasing to the palate comes along.

Also, if something like early-season cherries are available (perhaps even quite tasty), the early delivered prices are often high (the first-of-the-season gems usually are), and you have to set your retail at something like $12.99 a pound. So you’re better off to wait for the f.o.b. prices to drop to an affordable level. If your customers see high prices or (worse) experience less-than-desirable quality, this always leaves a negative perception.

Be flexible in your specifications. Just because your chain “always” carries an 80-88 count apple doesn’t mean you can’t change. Every year shippers peak on sizes and grades that fluctuate. By being flexible and adjusting your specs to what is plentiful, you will be working with growers and allowing yourself to be much more competitive.

Make sense when pricing larger packs. You’re obviously good in math, and so are your customers. It’s always a good idea to see pricing through their eyes, especially with the larger packs versus the small ones. The larger packs should represent a better value and be priced accordingly.

Keep pricing standards consistent. Your pricing standards are typically known as a being in an “each” or “per-pound market. Some parts of the country are a little of both. What you don’t want to do is price something per pound one week and per each the next. There are rare or seasonal exceptions to violating this rule, but you’ll have happier customers if you stay consistent in your pricing philosophy.

If you sell berries (or any item) by the pint or half-pint, stop. Customers confuse dry-volume measures with liquid measures all the time. Always advertise and sign according to unit weight only.

That, my produce director friend, should help get you started. Now for week two ...

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.