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

Plan your work, work your plan.

I know what it’s like to achieve success — mostly because I’ve experienced failure more times than I care to admit.

In fact, a reporter (knowing how many unsuccessful times that Thomas Edison failed in perfecting the light bulb) once asked the inventor how it felt to fail 1,000 times. Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

I wish I had that kind of optimism.

Coming up through the ranks this produce scribe learned many a thousand-step lesson. So many times, it takes fine-tuning to shave off a minute here, a minute there on a task. And by learning hard-won lessons it can mean handling produce (which you all know isn’t light duty) fewer times. 

Less handling saves time, but aching muscles are saved, too.

Take, for example, the load-receiving lesson. So many days a semi of fresh produce backed up to the dock, when I (and typically another late-working clerk) had to drop everything and unload the truck. 

We were teenagers. Caught off-guard, we weren’t prepared. We pulled heavy produce off the truck and parked pallets wherever we could. It was all we could do to avoid tripping over empty pallets, piles of empty boxes and other debris strewn everywhere. After the truck left we had to rearrange everything just to put everything away and handled the produce several more times.

It was maddening, counterproductive. And unnecessary.

So, after 999 times (or so it seemed) of doing this exercise the wrong way, we wised up. Knowing when the load arrived, we started the receiving process early. 

We hustled to get the produce department in shape, often foregoing any break. We condensed pallets in the receiving area. We didn’t allow trash to accumulate and picked up any debris, even sweeping up so things would be nice and tidy.

The electric jack got charged way ahead of time, too. 

Finally, we had a plan when the load arrived. We studied the invoice and knew what to expect. So full pallets got a designated, “permanent” spot in the cooler, while mixed-load pallets were staged near their final destination, be it in the cooler or in the dry storage area.

We even tag-teamed some produce so that by the time the unloading clerk came off the truck with a new pallet, the previous pallet was already broken down and put away. That’s working smarter, not harder, as you may have heard on occasion. But it’s a lot of hustle, too.

This foresight and lesson in teamwork was often capped with a cold soda afterwards, playing pinball in the breakroom, while trying to beat the high score. For the thousandth time.

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].