SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A National Grocers Association Show panel covered training, tracking, fresh-cut and more in a conversation Feb. 24 on minimizing produce shrink.

Todd Jensen, vice president of sales for West Valley City, Utah-based Harmons, noted that the company recently stopped referring to the issue as produce shrink and started calling it food waste. Jensen described it as a more intuitive framing of the problem and an acknowledgment that shrink is not only a bottom-line issue but a social responsibility one as well.

The panel agreed that properly training employees to handle different fruits and vegetables is one key to maximizing quality and shelf life. Cammy Busta, produce director for Grand Forks, N.D.-based Hugo’s Family Marketplace, noted that, while new produce employees can reference a manual that lays out a day in the life of the produce department and sets expectations for how different task should be done, it is also important to make associates feel comfortable and let them know that they can ask questions.

The personal touch makes a big difference, Busta noted.

Jensen mentioned that Harmons recently began a mentorship program for new produce employees in which each one is paired up with a current employee for their first 40 hours, working alongside that person to learn the ropes of the department.

Jensen and Miguel Herrera, director of produce for Amarillo, Texas-based wholesaler Affiliated Foods, spoke about digitizing training materials. It makes sense with the way people are now consuming information, they said.

The panel also discussed tracking shrink. Jensen said collecting the numbers daily is helpful for setting baselines and understanding how each store is doing in terms of shrink. Herrera noted the shrink reports for Affiliated Foods can be segmented by buyer and provide insight into how shrink correlates with different ordering behaviors.

Fresh-cut was another topic of conversation on the panel. Busta and Herrera each noted their companies outsource fresh-cut, while Jensen said Harmons produces those items in stores. Busta said fresh-cut is a big portion of the shrink for Hugo’s. Jensen noted that doing fresh-cut in-house has helped Harmons control shrink; the chefs who produce the various value-added products receive information that helps them understand which items are moving well and which ones are not so they can adjust their production accordingly.

Other shrink reduction methods, from overwrapping to keeping certain categories in refrigeration behind doors, were also discussed.

One attendee questioned whether retailers were seeing the effects of consumers spending more money on food prepared outside the home. The panel answered that, while that change wasn’t necessarily affecting produce sales, it has certainly been reflected in the product mix. It’s one of the factors contributing to the growth of fresh-cut and value-added, Jensen said.

Richard Owen, vice president for global membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, moderated the panel.


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