The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider )

We turn once again to the Produce Aisle reader’s inbox.

This followed last week’s column: What specifically are the tools a produce manager should have (from store or corporate management)? 

Great question. While this list isn’t complete, the following are some of the more important tools.

> A strong path of training and development: This means requiring meaningful experience in all phases of managing the department, from stocking to safety, merchandising, ordering, product knowledge and training. The path of clerk>assistant produce manager>produce manager is sound, tried and true.

> Consistent produce quality: Use reputable suppliers and provide consistency in variety, sizing and availability and combine this with strong promotions and ads.

> Merchandising control: A set schematic is all right for lesser-skilled produce managers, but, if you have superstar merchandisers, turn them loose and watch your sales and profits rise.

> Room: Produce is a bulk business, so ample room to receive, store, prep, and display produce is another key success tool.

> Fixtures: Provide high-quality fixtures (dry and refrigerated) that are easy to stock, re-arrange and clean, yet provide options to add secondary or tie-in items.

> Signs: A superior signing program can make a manager’s life much easier, especially if it is attractive and high quality, with parts that are readily available for reorder. 

> Adequate labor: Many produce managers say they’re understaffed. This will always be the case, I suspect. However, the best store managers at least gave me the opportunity to infuse the extra man-hours I asked for with the caveat that I back up the labor spent with increased sales and profits to match.

> Placement tools: Accessibility to available outdoor, lobby or covered sidewalk areas for seasonal marketing periods.

> Sanitation: If an organization has dedicated sanitation staffing, why not assign them to help with chores such as case cleaning, fixture cleaning, regular store sweeps and spot-mops? Any help that keeps produce clerks on the sales floor is welcomed.

> Training: Proper training time develops clerks with a strong work ethic, customer service skills, product knowledge, quality and speed of work with minimal shrink.
> Technology: Does a chain offer a streamlined or a cumbersome ordering system? Any time saved helps managing the produce department. Same goes for systems that help track sales, price integrity or manage inventory.

> Sampling program: I encourage stores to regularly include produce sampling in their demo programs, be it with mainstream or specialty produce. 

Providing tools is a two-way street: Management offers resources to succeed and it’s up the produce manager to make the best of the support; to execute plans, train and hold people accountable. This maximizes sales and profit margins, keeps shrink in check and makes for happy customers. 

And when it all comes together, a well-run produce department is indeed the jewel of the store.

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