“It’s time for fresh produce.”

So said a favorite store manager about this time every year. It was his reminder that produce sales were on the verge of a sharp incline. As if I didn’t already know.

Not to mention, retail produce is a year-round affair after all. It isn’t like some remote farmers market that springs to life (as many do) only when the weather gets nice. 

In the produce aisle, we’re open for business year-round.

However, there is something special about summertime produce. Customers take increased notice and embrace warm weather cuisine. They’re thinking about eating tomatoes, leafy greens and potato salads, and bowls of grapes mixed with berries.

People want to sit out on the beach, on the patio or just their back stoop and enjoy the extra sweetness of summer melons. They look for these pre-cut but will buy whole melons, especially if the cuts on display are fresh and appealing.

It starts off with a teaser of California apricots and cherries, and it seems the next thing you know, we’re in the middle of peak season peaches, plums, nectarines and all the cool sub-categories with enhanced sugar levels that proclaim summer love better than the Beach Boys.

Customers crave summer fare. They gravitate to corn displays and load up an armload, be it planned or on a whim. Barbecue season is in full swing and every summer day is a good one to spend time outdoors, even if it’s a work night.

And then there’s stone fruit. It starts off with a teaser of California apricots and cherries, and it seems the next thing you know, we’re in the middle of peak season peaches, plums, nectarines and all the cool sub-categories with enhanced sugar levels that proclaim summer love better than the Beach Boys.

The store manager knows this from years of experience, as do produce professionals.

I suspect the mid-May remark was his way of deferring to the unspoken pointed questions: “Are you ready? Is your extra help in place to cover the extra volume and vacation coverage? Have you trained everyone adequately?”

“Have you arranged for watermelon drop-ships to the store? Is your merchandising plan in place? How are your scheduled shifts different from winter hours? It takes twice as much time to set up a store in the summer than it does in the winter, and twice as much to close up shop. Again, are you prepared?”

Summer is our time in the spotlight, after all.

Amid all this scrutiny, managing a produce department in the summer is indeed added pressure. Even without the boss throwing out a May reminder. 

With all the additional products, which require extra handling, which need additional time to plan, merchandise, order and monitor to limit shrink, summer can test anyone’s resolve.

But summer is also fun. It’s a whirlwind and a challenge and prepared produce managers could answer their own store managers with a knowing smile. Summer is our time in the spotlight, after all.

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 lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

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