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

How’s your produce night vision?

One of my more interesting side ventures as a produce supervisor was to schedule store visits with the chain’s district manager — at night. Specifically between the hours of 4 and 9 p.m.

You know, the hours of peak business?

It was important and educational to occasionally travel together, as my focus was on produce, which the district manager might learn from — and I from his or her focus, which was on the entire store operation. So it was valuable to interact and learn how we each evaluated a store’s strengths or weaknesses.

To begin, we each agreed that “our” stores graded well during the morning hours. We wanted to see what happened when crunch time came. In the evening. When the going gets tough. It was a real eye-opener.

Sanitation was our first impression. In produce, was there debris or empty cartons lying around? Did the floor need a sweep and spot-mop? How clean were the rack mirrors, scale pans, sign or table bases? On the whole-store side I saw the district manager evaluate it from all angles: Parking lot and sidewalk cleanliness, overflowing trash cans and general aisle sanitation.

Stock condition is the real barometer of a late-night store’s strength. In produce, we examined generalities such as if all items were available and had sufficient inventory on hand.

Besides this, and basic shopper needs such as lettuce, bananas and tomatoes, I zeroed in on how the store handled ad compliance and stock levels. Predictably, the district manager looked for the same throughout all the perishable departments as well as in dry grocery.

The less out-of-stocks, the better the store graded.

Labor was next on both of our review lists. Did the produce department have enough people on hand to maintain standards, or was the schedule too heavy in the morning? If the latter was true, it showed in the evening visits with less-than-desirable results.

The district manager reviewed the same. Were there enough cashiers to handle business? Too many? Was there supervision in the store to keep everyone productive?

We both learned a lot about each location on our night reviews, the results of each were then followed-up with each affected store and produce manager.

It is somewhat normal to expect less-than-ideal conditions at night, as sometimes customers simply outnumber the means to keep everything perfect. However, one constant goal remains: Every customer that enters a store should expect (at minimum) cleanliness, good stock conditions, and a knowledgeable, helpful staff — no matter what time of day.

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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