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

My Webster’s Pocket Dictionary defines “advice” as counsel or guidance. I’m not sure I’m up to this kind of pressure.

An intern, fresh out of college with an eye on marketing, approached me at a recent trade event. She was obviously smart and enthusiastic to get moving with her produce career.

What she didn’t have was real-world experience that weighs so heavy in our industry. She wanted advice, one thing that could help her, once she landed a position.

I was flattered someone would ask. After all, I’m not a CEO or other high-ranking person. In fact I tell people that I’m just an average produce guy that happened to take a couple of typing classes along the way. So in our brief few minutes, I shared the first thing that came to mind.

It seems that most successful people I know have one thing in common; they are all early risers.

Every produce director, every good supervisor or specialist, every on-the-ball produce manager or buyer — all seemed to be on the job way before they were expected. So when I was fortunate enough to attain these positions I tried to emulate this practice.

No easy days

That isn’t to say it’s easy. Especially for a confirmed night owl like myself. Everyone has their ideal work “peak” period, and I find that mine is between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. (I attribute this trait to my teenage years when I closed up shop every night in the produce aisle, scrubbing cases till the wee hours).

But if you want to have any kind of edge in the produce business, hitting the ground running isn’t good enough. You have to do it while it’s still dark outside.

Finding time

This was reaffirmed to me during those formative years in another way. I read about former Colorado University football coach Bill McCartney. He coached Colorado for 12 seasons, which included three consecutive Big Eight conference titles and one national championship.

McCartney once said that the “lack of time” excuse isn’t a valid argument. He said that if a person gets up one hour earlier each day, this is like having nearly a whole extra work day each week.

So, I explained that I saw this work up close as a supervisor and later as a produce buyer. By forcing myself to get up one hour earlier than I had to, I was able to catch up on reading important memos that would otherwise go unnoticed. Or I spent that hour going through the herbs in the pick slot, or sometimes the early “golden hour” as I called it, was simply spent getting organized for the day.

My second piece of advice: Invest in a durable coffee mug.

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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