Greek philosopher Plato once said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.” This is true for deep thinking, and it’s equally important for a produce manager.

Visualize the scene: It’s so early when most produce people go to work it is still dark outside. Traffic is just beginning to build volume. The coffee pot hisses and steams in the backroom as night stockers wrap up their duties and the opening produce clerk is hustling to finish setting the wet rack before the store opens for business. 

Just another day. However, for the produce manager this is that all-important beginning time slot. 

A wise produce manager is careful to avoid the temptation of getting sidetracked with one particular project, or picking up the clipboard to write an order right off the bat. This is a time for assessing the whole day’s outlook, as it will set the tempo for the workload to follow.

I always liked to get a cart with a few empty boxes, grab a few cleaning towels, a legal pad and sharp pencil to begin.

Then I’d walk the entire produce department, one fixture, one refrigerated case at time. As I walked, I’d get my hands on each display, straightening and culling as I walked, taking care to not spend too much time on any one spot.

Rather, if something needed extra attention, I’d make notes under a few headings: “areas to clean,” “rotation needs,” “merchandising changes” and “notes.” Of course, whatever I could do quickly (such as wiping off spills on table edges or scale pans) I’d knock out as I walked around in that early morning hour. This was a good time to fix little things that my closer missed, adjusting signs, replacing plastic bags — anything what I thought might detracted from the department’s early image.

With my early morning notes posted, my crew arrived for their shifts and were likewise trained to follow the daily plan. It was everyone’s responsibility to take care of whatever specific tasks fell in their work area. 

Besides stocking, as displays got rotated, scrubbed, merchandising changes were made, and so on, each line item was dutifully scratched off the list.

There’s something especially satisfying for all of us to-do list makers, to check off each task. It’s a sense of accomplishment. Even therapeutic.

The beginning early morning walk is important. It’s so easy to to feel overwhelmed (especially walking into a mess), and to divert attention that makes a produce manager feel out of control and frustrated. 

Even in the worst of situations, following the planning routine and taking notes as you make assessments will help keep everything on track.

And the beginning of the day is the best time to do so.

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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