It’s an odd word — shrink.

Outside of retail fresh produce circles, it means something completely different. As a verb, shrink means to become or make smaller in size or amount, to contract or cause to contract. To move or back away. As a noun, shrink means a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve wondered if I should have my head examined for ending up in this crazy produce business.

Shrink, in industry lingo, is simply defined as the difference between what a produce retailer should sell something for and what actually gets rung up at the cash register. 

As we’re in the thick of heavy August sales, we also need be aware that this is traditionally the heaviest shrink month of the year.

This stands to reason. Heavy volume means larger orders from the warehouse or distribution center. Which lends itself to mistakes at store level in receiving, in rotation and in product handling. A produce manager is balancing a range of product (especially stone fruit) from the warehouse, and from local or direct store deliveries. It’s a lot of moving parts.

All the while his or her most senior clerks are systematically rotating out, taking vacation time, meaning the year’s heaviest volume is often being handled by the least experienced clerks.

That’s a recipe for heavy shrink.

What’s a produce manager to do? There’s an old saying that it’s all right, putting all your eggs in one basket, but watch that basket! 

This is the month when a produce manager has no choice but to constantly keep his guard up watching the produce basket. This means coming in extra-early to assess the department. It means taking an accurate inventory each day and taking care to order only what is needed until the next delivery.

Keeping shrink in check means faithfully rotating product upon arrival. It means comparing pack sizes received to pack sizes charged, checking each delivery carefully for discrepancies. It means having a triage mindset when examining the quality each morning — “The nectarines received today are riper than what we have on hand; make sure these get stocked first” — not unlike what is done daily with ripe-sensitive items such as tomatoesavocados or bananas.  

Monitoring shrink also includes how the produce is handled.

Displays should be stocked only a few layers high to avoid bruising. If you need more holding power, widen facings out rather than piling product deep. Even experienced clerks should be reminded daily to handle produce with care, to rotate displays faithfully, cull closely and never drop cases or dump product.

It’s August. Do you know where your shrink percentage is?

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


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