Some time ago, I ran into a produce manager that I know, who only has a couple of years’ experience.
“All right, pop quiz,” I said. “When are pomegranates in season?” His smile faded.
“Uh, pomegranates? Hey, I’ll be honest. I don’t know. They (the warehouse) just sends them.” My smile faded too.
I recalled this when picking up some groceries at my neighborhood store. I thought, “That had to be the exception. Surely produce managers and clerks have a better grasp of product knowledge.”
So I detoured through the crowded produce department where several employees were busy stocking.
“Ripe pineapple will have a lot of gold color like these do,” she answered. “And they’ll have a nice sweet aroma, too.”
“Ah, correct,” I thought and then remembered the pomegranate question. I asked when to expect them and how long will they be in season. The confidence drained from her face.
“Oh, well you know. I’ve only been here four years. I really don’t understand seasons. I think we received a case recently. We might get more in. Sorry.”
I’d call that a case of why aren’t produce people better trained?
Just then the produce manager walked by, and she called out to him and relayed my questions, which he paused and answered correctly that pomegranates had been limited lately and typically the supply season lasts through December.
“All correct,” I thought, but what about his assistant? On the job four years and still hasn’t recognized when basic items are available and admits a lack of seasonal knowledge?
Heading toward the checkout, I walked past a young man stocking the organic vegetable section of the wet rack. “Big cart, display looks good,” I thought. “They usually assign knowledgeable people to stock this section, right?”
Wrong. When I asked the clerk what exactly organic means he said, “Unlike regular produce, organic doesn’t contain growth hormones. You know, stuff that make children mature too quickly.”
This brief snapshot leads me to this: We remain dismally behind regarding produce training. In this case, the produce manager’s answer was good, the assistant’s knowledge was incomplete, and the clerk must learn to discern facts from guesses.
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 email@example.com.