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

The new quaint little Italian place near home is also a mid-afternoon occasional lunch date with my better half. My wife called today and diverted me to meet at a Mexican restaurant instead, the “plan B” place.

“The Italian restaurant manager said his delivery was a few hours late today, again,” she explained as we sat down. “So they can’t make any pizzas for a while.”

Is this any way to run a business? Does this ever happen to you as a produce manager? Run out of important items, that is. 

Late trucks happen to everyone. I suspect the pizza place has been struggling since its inception less than six months ago. They always seem to have some sort of problem with inventory (like today) or retaining help. 

I know what I’d do in the pizza situation — the same thing I’d do as a produce manager. 

First of all, a manager has to do what I call “protect the sales.” That is to say, anything that threatens sales needs my immediate attention. Specifically, a manager has to identify early on what the outlook is for the day. Late orders are not uncommon, so a manager has to anticipate this and ensure a little extra “safety stock” is on hand to maintain business.

In the pizza place, I imagine the safety stock might include enough crust, sauce, and, of course, cheese. 

In the produce department, the safety stock items are things such as lettuce, tomatoes, bananas, power items such as onions, potatoes, certain citrus and apple SKUs, and ad items. We’re not talking a lot, of course, just enough product ordered to overlap the time period of when your delivery should arrive, and when it might arrive in a worst-case scenario.

Second, when the out-of-stocks list is simply too much to bear for the day (for whatever reason — late truck, unanticipated sales, poor ordering), it’s time to take additional action.

If I was the pizza manager facing a rough day, instead of apologizing to customers I’d hightail it to the nearest grocer early and get enough product to get through until the delivery showed up. 

Sure, the pizza standards may be off somewhat (they may even be better) but at least it might get a manager through the lunch rush.

As a produce manager, someone with a pickup truck would be dispatched to get the basic product needs list filled, and pronto — whether it’s sourced from a nearby wholesaler, a sister store or (gasp) buying a few cases of produce from your competition. 

All these options are pricey, of course, but like my pizza experience, it will cost much more if your loyal customer finally gives up and fades away.

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

Related content:
Writing the produce order, part two
A produce promotion dilemma
Take time to write that order