Ask any good comedian, running back or produce manager and they’ll all agree: Timing is everything.
I’m not claiming to know anything about the first two occupations, but I’d agree that good timing can help define a produce department. In fact, fine-tuning the skill can actually build the bottom line quite nicely.
But before we get into this, one must be reminded that fresh produce is unique, even within the grocery business. We deal with products that have the shortest period to (as several of my old pals would attest to) either “sell it or smell it.”
Or avoid it. We used to have a report called “Sales per $1,000 dollars.” And while most managers would disregard this as just another bean-counter report, Tom, a wise produce manager I worked for, used to review it often. Usually as we went over paperwork for the week.
“See this item — kohlrabi?” Tom said one afternoon, running his highlighter along the green-bar paper line.
“This says we sell a fraction of a case of kohlrabi for every $1,000 in sales. Whaddya think? Should we even carry it?”
It sure made no sense on paper. So I said no.
“Ahh, grasshopper. Let me tell you something about this item. The person who buys kohlrabi is Mrs. Jenkins. You know, the self-described gourmet chef? She’s in here every Friday. She only buys a bunch or two at time. But with this she also buys a huge cart of other produce. Now do you think we should drop it?
“Sometimes she doesn’t even buy any kohlrabi.” Tom went on. “But I make sure we have it in stock.”
Tom made a couple of good points. First, he wanted to make sure we had this slow-moving item in stock for good customer service. But secondly, and more important — Tom didn’t have six cases in the cooler at all times either, which would certainly turn up as shrink.
Instead, Tom advised we order a fresh case every Wednesday so that it would arrive in time Friday morning, in time for Mrs. Jenkins and more like her.
“But we don’t stop there. Look, ours is a weekend and first-of-the-month store.” Tom said.
“That’s the time to bring in the more obscure items that I have marked in the order guide. It’s a balance to provide the widest assortment to the greatest influx of shoppers.”
Even then, Tom cautioned that prior sales are no guarantee of future success.
“If we have no sales of a slower item, try bringing it in every-other weekend instead.”
The message was clear. Keep the order pencil sharp, but don’t throw in the towel on slower-moving items. You can’t sell produce if you don’t stock it in the first place.
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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