“The first loss is your least loss.”

I remember overhearing this statement from a produce director when I was a teenager, stocking produce after school one afternoon. The saying didn’t especially resonate with me at the time, mostly because I was just a pimply-faced kid trying to earn a few bucks. 

It was, however, one of those mysterious sayings that stuck with me.

The director was talking to our produce manager about a display of overripe, speckled bananas. The director wanted the entire display culled and replaced with green-tipped product that was sitting in the back room. 

The produce manager argued he didn’t want to take the loss. “Too much shrink,” he said. “They’ll sell — someone will buy them.”

Of course, the produce manager relented. We pulled the entire display and replenished it with fresh. As the day wore on we bagged and sold the overripe “bones” at a discount on a side rack, while something interesting happened to the main, fresh banana display.

Sales took off, and we almost ran out of stock.

That’s what happens when a produce display is 100% fresh. If a display has only the best you have to offer, customers have a funny way of reacting — they open bags and fill them with fresh produce.

If a produce display has less than desirable fare? Less than desirable sales are sure to follow.

As a supervisor years later, I encountered a produce manager arguing the same case. Except the display in question was mangoes. I started culling a few decaying mangoes into a paper bag. As my thumb continued to sink into rotting fruit, the bag morphed into a box, and more.

The produce manager was defensive. “Hey, that’s my gross profit you’re pitching,” he said. “Those aren’t that bad, c’mon!” As small clouds of fruit flies began to hover over the display, he finally saw just how bad things were.

Culling isn’t a once-in-awhile thing. It’s an all-the-time thing.

Culling should be ingrained in every clerk and manager’s mindset. As clerks begin to straighten, rotate or stock a display, their eyes should be trained to look for anything that may repel a sale, and leading that list should be unappealing produce.

The standard line many of us learned early on was, “If the quality isn’t good enough to sell it to your own mother, then it should be culled.”

Still, too many displays go unculled or are poorly culled. Mostly because a manager is worried about his or her profit margin. Even if you do manage to get away with selling poor quality, your customers may not give you a second chance.

That’s when the shrink really piles up. The “first loss” saying makes sense now, doesn’t it?

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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