Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle The position of produce supervisor has many titles: Merchandiser, specialist — whatever the name, the supervisor role is often misunderstood.
For many produce managers, their immediate supervisor is the store manager. The produce supervisor, on the other hand, usually visits a produce manager on irregular intervals. The misunderstanding arises when a produce manager views their supervisor as a corporate cop, waiting in the wings to catch the produce department in bad stock conditions.
I recall one produce manager who said the supervisor justifies his job by reporting how many stores he walked into that were in poor shape and says, “Ha! I gotcha!”
Perhaps with a few, this might be true.
But in the chains I’ve worked as a supervisor, I can attest that overall this just isn’t so. To best demonstrate the supervisor’s role, we can invoke the 80/20 rule.
Here’s how the 80/20 rule commonly works for produce supervisors. On average, 80% of the produce managers do a good job and need little supervision. This majority follows most of the company programs, policies and procedures. As a result, these managers only require an occasional or brief visit.
A comment once overheard by one of the 80 percenters: “My super was just in — he spent maybe a half an hour here, we reviewed a couple things over coffee and then he was gone. Man, I wish I had his job!”
Chances are pretty good the supervisor was heading to a more complex situation at the next stop, because they typically spend 80% of their time in the 20% of the stores that require far more attention.
The produce supervisor’s role is not to be the “gotcha cop” as much as it is to provide help.
Twenty percent of most chains seem to consist of newer produce managers. Sometimes those in the 20% category are filling in while the regular manager is away. Other times the store is struggling for other reasons: going through a remodel, poor profit margins or it’s in a heated competitive situation.
Ideally, a produce supervisor’s role is to be the produce manager’s assistant and work together to find solutions to whatever is preventing the produce department from achieving its potential.
This takes time. Many times the produce supervisor has several overnight, remerchandising projects scheduled in a given month, or is on the sales floor in the 20%-type store, working side-by-side with not only the produce manager, but training clerks as well.
So, if you don’t see your produce supervisor all that often, take heart. You’re probably doing just fine.
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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