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

How is the produce department similar to soda, to chips, to beer?

Those grocery categories are notable for their frequent inventory turns. In most stores, especially on busy evenings, weekends and holidays, it’s evident: Store managers must ensure there is enough shelf space, enough back stock and enough labor to replenish these areas many times throughout the day.

Don’t believe it? Take a walk down those aisles on your next midday weekend jaunt at your neighborhood store.

You’ll more than likely find in-store clerks or contract “jobbers” in these aisles, keeping everything full, faced, and inviting for the constant demand. Unlike most other grocery aisles that have enough holding power that withstands at least one shopping day, these categories require ongoing stocking attention.

As you shop, you may not see many grocery clerks in the cereal aisle during the day. But you’ll almost certainly see one or two clerks stocking the meat case, keeping the dairy in good condition, filling bread shelves, waiting on customers in the deli. The constant-attention drill common in these “perishable departments.”

Which brings us to the Big Kahuna of perishables — produce.

Fresh produce inventory can turn over from one to several times per day. Even more on busy holidays or weekends. There is rarely enough holding power to handle a day’s worth in a single stocking. Nor would anyone want it that way. Frequent turns mean more opportunities to present the freshest produce to each wave of customer traffic. 

“Keep it stocked, keep it fresh, keep it looking good, don’t run out” was recited by many store managers as they walked my department. A synopsis of our daily goals, as if we needed reminding.

But a store manager does need to keep the pressure on. And so does the produce manager with his or her crew. It’s easy to become complacent, to retreat to the back room and lose yourself in some secondary task. Meanwhile, one display after another gets shopped down to the point you’ve lost control and the department is no longer looking good.

Keep it stocked, fresh, full ... words that in the produce department weigh heavily on your success. Good stock conditions ensure that customers have the best impression, that they will grab a dozen bags, anticipating filling them with their daily or weekly needs. 

Full, fresh displays trigger something inside customers to purchase, and to purchase items with confidence.

A low-stocked, torn-up produce department? Quite the opposite.

That’s why it’s so important for produce managers to push for the dialed-in, near grand-opening look as much as possible. Well-stocked produce, clean, fresh and full, carries the day.

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].

Related content:
Overthinking can stall your department's productivity
Produce economics 101
Avoiding summertime shrink