Before this gets heated, remember: I’m all for teamwork. 

When grocers succeed it’s because of teamwork. The organization, like most others, is divided into departments: produce, dairy, grocery, service, technology, human resources, etc. From the executive levels down to the teenage courtesy clerk pushing carts, every department has its own structure, budget, duties, schedules and more.

Yet each department within each banner is considered a store team.

It’s where everything comes together: Night stockers fill shelves, maintenance workers clean, pricing people manage signage, bakers bake, pharmacists fill scripts, produce people fill displays, and so on. And a store manager is responsible for everything from sales and profits to people working and shopping.

Everyone has a job, and yet ... produce people sometimes spend too much time in a checkstand. 

I’ve said this before in corporate and in store ranks, with mixed reactions. I’ve experienced this as a produce manager and seen it as a supervisor — walking into a busy store, the produce department depleted of merchandise, while produce clerks are busy in a checkstand instead of replenishing produce and trying to keep up with stock levels.

About 95% of store managers I’ve known refrain from this. They understand and hold every department head accountable. It seems to work, and every department beneath the store team umbrella tends to flourish. 

A well-run operation speaks for itself in terms of a clean store with full shelves, minimal out-of-stocks, strong sales and gross profit, minimal shrink, good morale and adequate labor.

The other 5%? That’s another store-y.

I’ve endured the excuses for redirecting produce labor excessively. “Hey, you have to think in terms of the ‘whole-store’ effort here.” “We’re 20 minutes behind on checkers’ breaks.” “We’re busy ‘up front’ with the morning (lunch, dinner) rush.” “I just need sackers for about a half hour to catch up.”

These words come from store managers, typically with little experience in produce or any other perishable department for that matter. Or simply mismanagement.

Considering that customers base their primary grocery store on the produce quality, it’s a department a chain should never want to compromise. 

Some lower-volume stores absolutely must cross department lines regularly due to strained labor. Understandable. I’ve even seen employees at those stores wholeheartedly recognize the need and embrace covering for one another, and that’s admirable.

The medium-to-heavy volume successful stores? Those are the ones whose managers mostly support total store cooperation (without depleting produce standards) and hold each department accountable for their own area. It’s one thing for produce people to occasionally lend a hand elsewhere, but it can quickly get out of control. 

And believe me, it shows. 

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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