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

One good turn deserves another. Recently I touched upon the value of writing a careful order, especially in regard to giving the task ample time to complete.

I received several positive comments, so I thought I’d build upon this, as writing a good order does have quite an impact on how efficiently a produce department is managed. Here are a few questions I’ve fielded on the topic over the years.

How do you get to the point of writing accurate orders? 

You begin, of course, by making lots of mistakes. The easiest thing to do is over-order, and as an assistant manager in particular, I’ve made more than my share of such mistakes. 

Over-ordering creates a mess. And shrink. Without business to absorb the added inventory, the produce sits in the cooler, aging day by day. You can react by keeping an item on the ad price to clean up or reducing the price to stimulate sales. 

The best thing is to learn from this, and don’t over-order in the first place. In doubt on a particularly sensitive item? Look to your peers and ask their opinion. 

“Steve, I was going to get another two pallets of strawberries to wind down the ad — what do you think?” 

If Steve is a seasoned produce veteran, he may offer something like, “Dude, we only sold 40 cases yesterday, I think the party’s over. Maybe need just one board to wrap up.” 

Consider that as a good source of advice and take it.

How do you know how much to order? 

Experience is always the best teacher. That’s why the best produce managers don’t just walk around holding a clipboard, sporting a spotless apron. They manage to keep an eye on the department while stocking more than their fair share of produce. 

When you stock product day after day, season after season, you can better identify all the peaks and valleys of each commodity, all the nuances of what is going to sell well, and what is not. You still miss a few calls when writing orders, but there’s nothing like experience to guide that order to perfection.

When do you know when to pull in the reins, or take a chance and be aggressive? 

Most produce managers I know will refer to this as “gut-check” time. If sales have been humming along on, say, fall pumpkins, your gut may tell you to wrap it up three days before Halloween. That same gut check may suggest — gulp! — bring in one more load.

Again, the message is still time. Take time to get and stay organized, take time to take inventory, to think and ask questions. 

But mostly — allow enough time to write the order.

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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