A time to reflect, a time to project.

This is the time of year when many fresh produce commodity associations, boards, groups take a time out, however brief. 

It’s harvest time and most growers are asking, “How’d we do last season? Was it a good year? Compared to when? How’s this year’s crop measuring up? How’s the quality? What’s the acreage, the yields, the volume? How’s the demand?”

All of this, and so many more questions raised, all while growers are busy battling the elements, regulations, water issues, pests, and dealing with their harvest. It doesn’t get any easier.

In retail produce departments, produce managers have their own load and stress degrees. However, a little reflection is a good thing, as is a time to look forward to what’s ahead.

An old boss once told me, “If something is worthwhile, you can bet we’re going to measure it.”

Many produce operations deal with a monthly or (more often) quarterly accounting period system. Line items such as sales, gross profit margins, shrink, labor, and contribution to the store’s overhead are all called into focus. Most figures are represented in terms not only of volume (produce tonnage, sales, profit) but also terms of percentages.

An old boss once told me, “If something is worthwhile, you can bet we’re going to measure it.”

One trick I found useful early in the retail produce game is to stay ahead of the things worth measuring. The early produce managers pounded this home. 

“Did you get a reading yet?” they’d ask, which meant getting a printout of the produce sales for either that day, or the previous day.

They forced this little drill all the time. It compelled me to stop in the manager’s booth on my way in each morning, where a front-end manager gave me a printout on a receipt tape to shuttle back to my boss in the produce back room.

In produce or in any business, everyone likes to keep score.

That’s when he’d dig a workbook out of his desk drawer and had me record the daily sales, along with what percentage the produce department had compared to the store’s sales. I noticed he had the previous year’s information in an adjacent column for easy comparison.

“Just look at this,” the boss would smile. “We’re beating last year’s sales by at least 5%, while the store is just a couple of points up. We’re doing something right.” 

It was the kind of thing that he, I or even any interested clerk on the crew could instantly recite when a supervisor happened to stop by. 

We didn’t just chat about produce, sports teams or the weather. We could talk numbers.

This also helped in thinking long-term. About projecting upcoming sales, labor needs, or overall quarterly budgets. It’s good to know where you stand, where you’re going.

In produce or in any business, everyone likes to keep score.


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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