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

More than just a few years ago, I wrote about NFL quarterback Peyton Manning who, at the time was the all-everything leader for the Indianapolis Colts. I mentioned how I liked his coolness under pressure and even though he wasn’t the quarterback for “my” team, I couldn’t help but admire his calm demeanor and ability to analyze problems and adjust on the fly.

That is something that every produce manager can relate to.

Manning worked through some near career-ending injuries, and in March of 2012 ending up signing with “my” team after all (Thanks Indy). Broncos fans everywhere were excited. The question lingered, why did the Colts owner Jim Irsay cut Manning loose to begin with?

The popular thinking was Manning was damaged goods and releasing him meant creating salary-cap room to sign the talented but untested rookie Andrew Luck.

Perhaps it was the wise move or was necessary for Indy to preserve the franchise. Perhaps the Colts feared an aging Manning might not last a series, much less a whole season. They couldn’t afford to keep him, most said.

I say they couldn’t afford to let him go.

Football talk aside, I see this thinking a lot in the produce aisle, the pressure to hire a manager with less experience. Or a produce manager setting up a new store might be directed to hire a mix of talent: A few with a lot of experience, a few with some experience and a boatload with no experience.

Just like the football salary cap, this is due to an ever-shrinking labor budget. The produce manager is asked to train the underlings from scratch.

If this is the only available mix, so be it. However, experience counts for so much in the produce business. When I was in charge of staffing new or remodeled stores, we always hired experience first before plugging holes in the schedule with rookies.

It only made sense, especially when the doors opened for business and the customer rush was on, but the philosophy works in normal labor settings too. Especially when it came time to promoting someone to fill a new produce manager position.

Experience doesn’t necessarily mean the number of years on the job. We looked for people who worked in varying levels, inner-city and suburban settings, slow and busy stores, covered vacations and was most familiar with the latest marketing trends and technology.

So when a chain instills this kind of produce manager in the ranks, they should do everything they can to develop and retain them. As they get stronger, the confidence builds. They can be turned loose to merchandise and manage freely.

Just like Manning, running that famous, no-huddle offense.

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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