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

We’re inching ever closer to spring, to Easter and beyond to summer.

With summer comes a rude awakening for many produce managers, in regard to staffing. It seems many produce managers I spoke to this time of year all said the same kind of thing.

“No problem. I’m covered. I have Jody the cashier that helps out once in a while. She’s going to be our extra coverage.”

Whenever I heard something along these lines, I knew the produce department was in trouble. It didn’t take long to dig a little, ask questions about the so-called summer coverage to discover that in most cases “Jody” was slated for cashier vacation coverage or was planning on moving to Guam — you know, something crazy like that.

One coverage plan is to promote a couple of part-time clerks from the courtesy clerk ranks. Providing the budget allows, and with a little persuasive discussion with the store manager, now is a good time to get this plan in motion.

This means getting the clerks on board and having them work with your senior clerks. Contrary to popular belief with some store directors, produce clerks need a solid six weeks or more of training if they are going to have an impact in the summertime, when it really counts.

Still believe you’ll be all right with the “maybe” clerk from the front end? Think back on summers past: full loads of produce hitting the dock, expanded displays of summer stone fruit and melons. Meanwhile, with a crowded vacation schedule, your heaviest volume was handled by your least-experienced clerks.

Mark Twain said “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”

Even Mark Twain connected the value of produce and training.

Many produce managers use a training chart for new clerks. If you don’t have one, it’s not hard to put one together and list the training areas you want to accomplish over the ideal six-week period. Summer is months away, but it will be here before you know it. Start the training with basics, showing where everything is and teaching terminology to get them started. Put a knife in their hands and let them trim lettuce, corn and cabbage.

Have them help unload trucks and break down loads. Show them how to distinguish between varieties, not only by reading the side of the box but when they rotate and stock the fruit. When they work with others, make sure they learn to set their priorities, keep an eye on the clock and keep everything full and inviting.

Follow this training checklist now, and you’ll reap the sales and profit potential this summer.

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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