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

“I hardly ever see you.”

Whenever a produce manager said that, as a chain supervisor I would always answer, “That’s because you do a great job and need little direction. You don’t need me hanging around much.”

It’s the highest compliment a produce manager can hope to get, next to “How do you have such a great fantasy football team every year?”

It’s the old 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of a produce supervisor’s time is typically spent with 20% of the produce managers. These are the department heads who are newly-promoted, or in some way wrestling with any number of issues: gross profit, shrink, merchandising, scheduling.
The list goes on, but these are among the red flags.

As any produce supervisor will attest, it’s these “squeaky wheels” that get the grease, the attention.

Supervisor intervention is usually prompted by data, or by a simple call from a district or store manager. “Hey, could you spend some time with Store #24? Mike needs help.”

That’s where it all starts.

“Help” often means a department reset. It turns into spending nearly daily time coaching the struggling produce manager and taking him or her through the basics: writing effective orders; planning for daily, weekly, and monthly merchandising; training; and writing effective labor schedules to match. 

It takes time. And, mostly, it is time well-spent — the produce department usually starts to run more efficiently, and the produce manager is usually more confident for the time spent with their “super.”

And what of the more accomplished yet alienated produce manager in the sister store across town?

The produce supervisor can’t just ignore his good produce managers. 

Supervisors should break away as much as possible and meet with those produce managers who don’t have as many problems. As much as possible, a supervisor should regularly stop into the better-run operations, even if it’s just to check in, to buy coffee for the crew, and thank them for their efforts.

It’s also a good time to take a hard look around.

After all, the better-run produce operations usually have something good going on. Perhaps it’s how they manage their ad placement, how they double-team receiving or breaking down a load, schedule a night prep clerk, or whatever they do to set themselves apart — it’s probably a good idea.

That’s just as valuable a time spent as resetting a struggling produce operation. If a supervisor can glean something productive from the flagships, and share the good ideas elsewhere, that’s also time well spent.

If nothing else, a supervisor can say to the struggling manager, “Hey, I’d like you to join me for a few hours visiting some stores whose standards are pretty consistent. Let’s schedule something next week.” 

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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