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

One of my favorite resources is “The Big Book of Business Quotations”(Basic Books, 2003).

It’s one of those compilation-type publications. I picked it up years ago from a mark-down table at the bookstore. I’ve used the book to help tie-in quotes on occasion.

Except for this occasion.

I wanted to insert some clever quip, some insight from a high-profile industry leader on the subject of inventory. Would you believe the book offered no suggestions? And in the produce aisle, we’re all about inventory aren’t we? It’s a primary conversation thread that a produce manager shares with his crew all day long:

  • “Did we get our truck in yet?”

  • “Did we receive the four pallets of the new ad item?”

  • “Were we short anything?”

  • “Is there inventory we need to add to our next delivery as a result?”

  • “Do we have enough inventory to see us through until the next delivery?”

  • “Are we long on anything that we need to take action on? Such as, reduce the retail and clean up the inventory (Like the aforementioned, marked-down quote book)

  • “Is there so much inventory that we should try to farm some of it out to neighboring stores, or call the warehouse to see if they can pick up the excess?”

Yeah. You might say inventory is an important part of the produce business.

Produce inventory is much different that say, canned goods. Ours is a perishable commodity. We’re in a race to procure and ship product from distant shipping points, move it through a distribution center, transport the produce to stores, where it is prepped, stocked and sold to consumers, all in a narrow window so that customers can benefit from whatever shelf life is left. We need to have enough inventory — but not too much.

All of which, contrasts from the simple explanation provided from my college marketing textbook, which defines inventory as “the amount of goods being stored.”

Since perishable inventories need so much care, and with so much at stake, it is remarkable how little time is allotted for following a proper ordering process. I’ve seen produce managers grab their clipboard and start filling in numbers, willy-nilly, without any preparation.

The efficient manager who aims to keep inventory mistakes to a minimum will give himself at least an hour or longer to balancing inventory needs through thoughtful ordering.

The careful manager will have already spent time walking his department, taking note of the inventory already on display (in some stores this is nearly their entire inventory). Then the produce manager takes a physical inventory of everything in the stock room and in the cooler.

Only then does the produce manager write his order, managing that all-important inventory.

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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