Whenever friends get together and talk about their shopping experiences, I can’t help but listen in. This happened recently.
“I like the produce in the (XYZ) brand store near me — it’s always nice and fresh,” one said.
“My (XYZ) store is awful,” another chimed in. “But the independent (ZYX) store has great produce.”
What I think is interesting, when it comes to details of how “their” stores’ produce is perceived, is that it has little to do with some of the things that we as retailers think of as pertinent. They speak about how long the produce lasts once they get it home. Or they mention it if after a day or so the bananas or avocados show bruising and black spots.
The little bell went off inside my head, and it should with you too: Product handling.
Oh sure, everyone preaches careful item prep and handling all along the cold chain. For the most part, the supply side does a remarkable job of delivering fresh produce in as good of condition as possible.
Product care and handling is more than a line on a training chart, it’s our livelihood and affects our customers.
However, like an old produce mentor used to tell me, “The last 150 feet from storeroom to display is the toughest leg.”
Proper ordering, preparation, storage and handling matters. When I hear about bruising issues, the first thing I think of is all the thoughtless clods I used to work with at times — produce clerks who didn’t bother to properly rotate displays. Or who used to get in a hurry while stocking and dumped cases of produce onto the tables, sounding like a front-end loader dumping landscape rocks into the bed of a truck.
The rocks bounce and roll intact. Avocados, apples and more? Not so much.
“No need to worry,” an older clerk once winked at me while dumping away. “Everything’s so green it’ll be fine.”
Except it isn’t. Even dropping some produce mere inches can cause internal bruising. Cases of produce are indeed heavy, and some seem indestructible, but produce managers must stress during all phases of training that everything must be handled with care.
The same goes for stocking. “Easy does it. Place the produce you’re stocking, don’t toss, force, or otherwise mishandle things. If a customer buys poor quality, they may not be back. If we cull it tomorrow due to it breaking down, it affects our sales, kills our gross profit and increases our shrink.”
Fresh produce is indeed perishable. Product care and handling is more than a line on a training chart, it’s our livelihood and affects our customers, whom we would rather overhear at gatherings saying “I love the produce department at my store. It’s clean, it’s well stocked. And super fresh!”