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

Our chain’s produce director made a surprise visit at our store one busy evening. The manager had already left for the day, and it was just me and another part-timer running the show.

“Leave that display alone for now,” he said. “That’s tomorrow’s business.”

The other clerk and I were busy following our manager’s direction, making sure that the fruit, potato and onion tables were rotated and stocked. We worked together, stacking bags of oranges as we methodically stocked one display after another, working our way toward the front of the department.

So when the produce director talked about “tomorrow’s” business, we were puzzled.

He wasn’t angry. I suspect he knew we were a little wet behind the ears, but he gave us a quick, stern lesson in stocking priorities.

“See the head lettuce display?” he said. “It’s nearly empty. Same thing with the banana table.”

“Uh, we were getting to that table,” said my co-worker. The produce director’s demeanor went from stern to a flushed red face. I elbowed my co-worker to silence him.

The director followed us into the back, where he helped us load carts.

“Bananas, tomatoes, lettuce and ad items need to be your constant focus,” he said. “Only when those items are in good stock condition do you resume other stocking duties. Get it?”

Well, I thought I did. We scrambled out with the carts, and to my surprise we stocked the high-moving items quickly.

“It doesn’t take that long to cover the bases, does it?” the director said as he hung up the phone in the back when we returned. “Today’s business means what is happening now. It’s what your customers are looking for tonight. They don’t care about how full the bagged oranges are. Empty shelves mean lower sales that translate into fewer hours for you.”

We weathered the chewing-out, but I was more worried about what our produce manager would say the next day.

“How many oranges will sell tonight? Five bags? You have at least 50 on display. That’s tomorrow’s business. It’s steady traffic on the sales floor right now.

“Conversely, how many cases of bananas will sell tonight? Twenty or more? The display holds five cases. So you’ll fill that display at least four more times tonight. Stock lettuce about the same frequency.

“Don’t think of this job as simply stocking. Think of it as reacting to what is happening around you first. Think today’s business first.

“I just spoke to your manager. All I told him was that I stopped by and said you guys are hustling and doing a good job.”

He squinted in a serious manner.

“Let’s keep it up, OK?”

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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