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

“I need to write an order.”

To the clerks that hear this from their produce manager, it can sound so easy, so simple. And some clerks indeed cast a suspicious glance at the manager. 

“Yeah, that’s just his or her way of getting out of stocking for a while. Yep, I wish I could just walk around with a clipboard for an hour or so.” 

In fact, if there’s one task that should be earmarked for that hour (give or take a little), it’s writing a produce order, and that’s considering it’s a well-seasoned produce manager who knows his store — and his business — exceptionally well.

Consider that writing an order consists of up to, say, 300 decisions. Each decision can mean the difference between having enough of an item or being out of stock. Thankfully, a produce manager can allow more time contemplating how much of an important item to order, over some secondary-priority categories that don’t require nearly the same time.

A good produce manager writes the order when the department is in good stock condition and has enough labor to maintain business, when he can write it mostly uninterrupted — and with time to spare to get it transmitted before the deadline.

The first thing the produce manager should do is take a good inventory. With a well-organized sales floor, backroom and cooler, this makes it much easier. (You don’t want three stacks of the same item in different parts of the cooler.) The inventory should include not only what’s in back-stock, but what’s on the sales floor as well.

What drives each decision? Estimated movement of each item, of course. The formula is simple: Need minus inventory equals the amount to order. 

But there’s more: Items going off ad, items currently on ad, items coming up for a new ad.
How’s the overall business volume? What’s the quality like? Seasonal items? Is the order to cover a Monday-Tuesday slower period or an anticipated busy weekend or the first fifteen of the month? Is the order to build larger or multiple displays or backing off on a declining item? Is the order to support holiday sales? Are some items ordered just to fill the shelf, or is some safety stock needed? Are late trucks or weather a factor?

So many questions, and, with an hour (average), so little time.

An accurate order means everything. It is the single best way of keeping shrink in check. It means having just enough produce until the next delivery, ensuring maximum sales, fresh product, efficient productivity, frequent inventory turns.

It requires hustling to get organized. But once set, allow enough time when you pick up that clipboard and sharp No. 2 pencil. 

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].

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