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

One nice thing about being a produce manager is that the work is generally meeting-free.

Strike that. Goodness knows there are plenty of meetings the produce manager attends: Monday morning store meetings, budget meetings, district meetings, quarterly meetings. I was even in a store recently when over the store speakers came a call for all department managers to gather for the afternoon “huddle.”

I assume by the nature of the term this implies it’s a short meeting.

Store meetings aside, as the produce manager takes care of business with stocking, writing orders and the rest the time devoted to formally meeting with the crew is virtually nonexistent.

That may seem odd to anyone outside the industry. Suppose a produce department does a modest, $60,000 in weekly sales. What other business does more than $3 million annually and rarely holds internal meetings?

In reality, the produce manager might occasionally meet formally with his crew in small groups, or on a one-on-one basis. Even then the meetings are brief and on the fly as trucks need unloading and displays need attention.

Forty-five seconds are allowed between plays in football for the huddle, and it’s considered rushed. In a grocery store, that much time and frequency would be a luxury.

Further, the produce manager is in the thick of the action. The “meetings” the produce manager has, especially during a remodel or new store grand opening, are actually bursts of direction: “You got the front lobby displays done? Good! Now grab Tony and Jodi. We need help covering the ad items now! Where’s our maintenance clerk? Track him down and clean up the mess by the tomatoes. What? Warehouse on line two? Tom grab that. Tell them we need that special delivery before noon — and tack on four pallets of spuds.”

It may seem more like an officer on a battlefront, but in reality those directions are shouted out, usually while the produce manager is busy as well, pulling pallets of produce off a truck or loading up a cart.

While the everyday work load isn’t always on such a rapid-fire, grand-opening pace, the short direction meetings nevertheless take place.

Most of the time I’ve found the daily execution meeting happens when the produce clerk has arrived, punched in and is in the back room. They stand there for a moment, quietly studying the labor schedule, tying their apron strings. They always asked something like, “Well, where do you want me to start?”

That’s when I had to be prepared, meeting style. In 30 seconds I’d give them the outline for their shift. What needed to be done, not just right away but what was expected for the entire shift.

Followed by a quick thanks and a pat on the shoulder.

Meeting adjourned.

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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