The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by The Packer staff )

As produce supervisors, we were often looked at as retail “cops,” making unannounced visits around our 66-store chain to drop in on produce managers and see what kind of shape their departments were in that day. Mostly, the produce supervisor’s role is misunderstood.

A typical Wednesday, for example, began this way: By 6 a.m. my counterpart and I each visited a competitor’s store. We grabbed copies of their ad, then recorded prices on the top 100 produce items in the store.

Then my partner and I reconvened at our chain’s office. We entered the pricing, along with other data, into a complex but effective spreadsheet to update the program. We cranked out a copy from the tractor-feed dot-matrix printer and drove to the warehouse for our meeting with the buyers.

We used to get more work done by 9 a.m. than some people in the business world accomplish all day.

In our meeting we made up-or-down price adjustments, based on the information at hand. If we could take a price increase and still be competitive, we took it. I suspect every chain still does this, taking advantage of any opportunity to boost gross profit. 

The meeting rolled over into reviewing how the current ad was shaping up volume-wise, adjusting items for upcoming ads, and with the advance ad (blueline) in hand, making final adjustments on the impending ad that would soon go to press.

Our work conversations continued over lunch. We reviewed sales, upcoming events, and, for us supervisors, shared how things were looking in retail — which produce managers were doing a good job and who needed merchandising help. The buyers (up as well since 3 or 4 a.m.) in turn spoke to market conditions, quality issues and promotional opportunities. 

Our director was wise to organize our Mondays and Wednesdays in this pattern. As supervisors we were privy to the latest things happening in the produce world, funneled through our director and buyers. They, in turn, listened to our retail perspective. We worked well together.

After lunch we went our separate ways: The director usually had an afternoon of meetings, the buyers finished up their day dispatching trucks or pricing invoices. Us supervisors? We headed out to visit stores in our territory until late in the day, zeroing in on merchandising assistance and other guidance, or worked on upcoming new or remodel store plans.

However, the average produce manager we visited knew none of this. Some even teased us, saying “Is that all you do in your banker-hour schedule, walk around stores sporting a coat and tie?”

It happens. I half-smiled, tugged on my tie, reminiscent of comedian Rodney Dangerfield, and answered, “We don’t get any respect.”

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

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