Whether the accolades are given to a speaker, a chef or a produce manager this fact remains: Any performance result has a direct correlation to the amount of preparation.
The point can’t be emphasized enough. The simplistic Boy Scout “Be prepared” motto transfers well into any walk of life but especially when managing a produce department.
Particularly now, at the brink of summer, the produce department’s busiest period.
Some (including yours truly) believe if produce managers aren’t prepared for summer by early May with merchandising and labor plans, they are in deep trouble.
However, I’ve also seen produce managers make remarkable early June recoveries when preparation plans slide. They are able to share clerks between sister stores or the produce manager is able to secure experienced help from other departments. In our Craig’s List world, a produce manager’s help-wanted ads can track down help from college kids looking for summer work. Anything is possible.
With summer’s produce volume looming large now, once the labor piece of the puzzle is solved there’s yet more to consider.
A good produce manager should post a list of daily, weekly and monthly expectations during the summer and hold clerks accountable. Every summer morning the preparation tasks are extensive:
- setting up a wet rack;
- refreshing now-expanded displays of fresh corn; and
- stocking only the freshest grapes, strawberries and other berries.
The set-up shift is typically responsible for managing the cut fruit displays; culling, straightening, cleaning, signing and getting the rest of the produce department ready for the day’s business onslaught.
Not to mention the seasonal favorite you should monitor like a baby from now until mid-August: cherries. Many produce managers schedule twice the normal early morning labor during the summer to accomplish everything.
Why such a push on the morning set? Because this sets the tone for the rest of the day. If you order closely, rotate faithfully and stick to a plan, your day, week and summer will go much smoother. And similar task lists must likewise be applied to all mid and late shifts too.
This isn’t to say your summer load will be stress-free. Just the opposite is true. Managing a produce department is challenging enough on a regular basis, but in just a few weeks most produce operations will be at their yearly sales and volume peak. There is rarely enough space for storage or displays, labor or time to get everything accomplished. But preparation helps.
And when someone remarks, “You make it look easy,” wipe your hands on your apron, shake their hand and just smile.
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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