A produce director has a lot on his or her plate.

The financials are foremost, of course. Despite what advertised specials shout out each week about consumer savings, the produce director is responsible for delivering a sound gross profit. 

The produce director is also often responsible for a distribution center, its manager, foremen and employees. Within these walls are produce buyers and quality control inspectors that the produce director also oversees. 

The buyers make purchasing decisions, but it usually falls within the scope of the director’s standards.

In the retail field the produce director oversees any number of supervisors/specialists, who in turn monitor produce managers in their districts. The produce director also meets with produce managers and their crews. In short, the produce director is one busy person.

It was with this in mind that I exchanged e-mails with readers who chimed in about some of the merchandising tips suggested in this space. They said things like, “I’d like to build secondary displays, like we did in the old days to clean up excess inventory, but with office-set schematics, my hands are tied.” Or “I know I could bring in extra produce SKUs that will sell in my store. I could sell so much more. But the answer is always no — stick to your plan.”

Those are words that should be directed to their produce director.

Schematics, or set product placement plans, are found in many large chain operations. And I understand the reasoning: Set plans ensure that every store carries what they’re supposed to, no dodging key items. Set plans make it easier for buyers to track inventory, so the inexperienced produce managers don’t have to sweat making poor merchandising decisions or creating displays that generate excess shrink. 

Schematics ensure all the stores have a uniform appeal desired by category managers or supervisors. Store and district managers can likewise follow the plan, so they can double-check compliance.

And yet, there’s something innately amiss with the one-size-fits-all, low-risk schematics.

A seasoned produce manager will attest that having a free hand to merchandise is what makes the job interesting, rewarding and fun. It gets their creative juices flowing to work their way out of long inventory situations or to generate added sales, trying new merchandising schemes. And they all say they’ll welcome the credit for good ideas and take the heat for what doesn’t work.

My humble opinion? One-third of the produce managers in any given chain need a schematic. The next third need it too, but with some flexibility. The top third, the superstars? They just need to be turned loose and you know, see what happens.
A resolute produce director can handle that combination, I suspect.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at [email protected].


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