“You can’t improve produce once it’s distressed.” 

I recall one produce manager lending that advice long ago, as I tried to revive some beyond-dehydrated leaf lettuce with a round of water reconditioning. 

In our constant race to sell produce long before it reaches distress level, produce managers use available tools to minimize shrink: Careful orders to avoid being long on inventory; proper care, preparation and handling; prompt receiving and backroom rotation; use of water, ice and refrigeration.

On the sales floor the care is just as important: Merchandising to frequent inventory turn levels helps keeps shrink in check, as do keeping everything neat and clean, careful produce handling with constant culling and display rotation.

However, there remains one important oversight duty in the produce aisle: The “fresh” check.

How does your produce department look through consumer eyes? 

A frequent quick department walk is usually all it takes, like the early-morning walk I touched upon a few weeks back in this space.

Even if the display at first glance looks OK, if it has been left alone for long, chances are that produce display needs a closer inspection.

This is what I refer to as “a good straightening” fresh check. An attentive, hustling produce clerk or manager just must give each display a quick inspection. The avocado display may look fine, for example, but get your hands in it and straighten, detail and cull it. 

It takes very little time, but when done you’ve removed any soft overripe fruit (where do they all come from?), and with very little effort the display is once again fresh and appealing.

The formula for this is simple. Straighten, cull, move to next display.

Imagine the same with other especially volatile or sensitive items: Bananas, tomatoes, herbs, mushrooms, cut melons, stone fruit, cherries, berries and more. Even if the display at first glance looks OK, if it has been left alone for long (or perhaps you notice customers not purchasing anything), chances are that produce display needs a closer inspection.

Corn is high on my pet-peeve maintenance list this time of year. Sweet corn requires a fresh setup each morning. Any leftover corn should be trimmed, and, if good quality, overwrapped for quick sales.

And because fresh corn is inherently a messy display, it needs extra-frequent attention. If you supply some adjacent heavy-duty trash receptacles, it gives customers a place to discard husks if they desire. Also, provide extra-large bags for this bulky item.

Summer corn displays are arguably the freshness litmus test. Especially during peak sales periods. 

If you are attentive with this and every produce display, customers will respond in kind, with strong sales and minimal shrink. 

Call it my pre-holiday kernel of advice.

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]il.com.

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