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

The itty-bitty things.

When I think of how things were when I was a produce manager, the memories usually center around how we used to manage so many details every day. Things such as writing accurate orders, assessing the day’s needs, and making it on time to (yet another) meeting used to preoccupy so much of my time.

So much so that it was easy to forget about produce department fundamentals.

Dan Reeves, former Denver Broncos’ coach, used to refer to such details as the “itty-bitty things.” He usually said it when referring to a player who was reluctant to work on the small yet important details that ultimately make all the difference. 

Every business, be it football or produce, is a game of inches. The fundamentals. The details.

Sometimes a produce manager must do the same and expect a little bit more sharpness from his or her crew. Especially because people tend to fall into ruts. The crew eventually lets up a little bit here, a little there ...

And before long the little shortcuts turn the produce department into something that just looks, well, blah. 

Fresh is where it’s at. Fresh and full and appealing always saves the day. That’s why I would take this opportunity to center on a handful of points with my crew, and get into their business a bit, so to speak, with a few points:

Trimming. Such simple thing, right? However, there’s a right and wrong way to trim. I’d help a clerk prepare a case or two and observe their work. 

“Hey, slow down there cowboy,” I’d say. “Look at that trim job. You don’t need to cut the cabbage in half. Trim off just a thin amount from the butt-end and remove only discolored leaves. Over-trimming is weight, and weight is money. Besides, look how much fresher a properly trimmed head looks.” 

Same goes for everything you trim. Easy does it.

Then I’d do the same for clerks trying to skip the crisping program. I’d make sure they knew how to prepare the leafy greens, and why it was important to follow through. Again, fresh sells.

I might inspect the setup clerk’s display upon completion. How was the culling? If I had to cull more than a few items, that person would get a quick and sharp rebuke. Clerks must be mindful to cull poor product, so that only fresh is left on the stand.

Fresh produce is all about proper rotation. I’d make it a point to see the back room was rotated daily and the front-end displays rotated, every time they were stocked. Or else? Or else the clerk had to re-stock.

Itty-bitty things? Sure. But with fresh produce, it defines what we do.

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 [email protected].