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In the Trenches: Use smarter work management to simplify produce tasks

During the 18th century, all farm work was accomplished by hand — cultivating by using a hoe and grain cutting by swinging a sickle. Around 1830, it took approximately 300 working hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat. This was achieved by walking and using only hands.

Productivity in earlier years was not exactly meeting labor budgets like we must attain today. In the 1850s, there was never-ending labor in handling barrels and bushels of bulk produce in a grocery store.

By the 1930s and ‘40s, there were numerous small-sized neighborhood grocery stores popping up. They required clerks behind counters who waited on customers by selecting the items for them. Work methods were also not as efficient in those days without the modern equipment and principles we currently use.

Processing and preparing produce items at the store level also took time and labor to accomplish. Many steps had to be taken to trim items such as lettuce, celery, cabbage and other green leafy vegetables. Strawberries had to be sorted, culled, replaced back into pint and quart containers, then covered with cellophane before stocking on displays. In addition, the back room preparation areas had to constantly be cleaned and reorganized. The time, effort and labor costs ate up a large portion of the profits.

How long did it take to stock Iceberg lettuce in a produce department prior to the 1970s? When displays became depleted, a clerk would have to stop whatever he or she was working on and head for the back room or store basement to trim a number of boxes of lettuce and fill up the display. Then the lettuce trimmings had to be swept and packed into the trash. This task took place throughout the entire day — until wrapped lettuce came along.

With wrapped Iceberg lettuce, trimming was done in the field. Then the lettuce was film-wrapped, packed in cartons and pre-cooled. When the stores received a shipment, the produce manager simply opened the cartons and placed the heads on display. This eliminated all the extra time and labor from having to work each step at the store level. Of course, the per box cost was a bit higher, but much less expensive in labor. Besides, the displays were always easily kept stocked.

In today’s fast-paced world with highly challenged budgets, companies look for ways and means to simplify every work function to improve productivity.

Everything is associated with “time” and “performance” in the produce industry.

No matter if it’s in the growing fields, packing facilities, the retail stores, or on the consumer’s kitchen counter, there is a need to eliminate wasted energy.

Each movement we make must have common sense in performing the tasks to generate productive results.

One of the primary objectives of all produce businesses, other than to boost sales and profit, is to improve labor costs and productivity. This means that all equipment, methods, and motion economy must be made effective and efficient.

The computerization age has greatly moved productivity to higher levels, but more can be realized.

The first step in improving labor costs and productivity is in “work simplification.” The biggest challenge we have today is in changing some of the older work habits of people. Don’t be lax in making those changes.

They may have worked up until now, but now is when they must change course to meet new productivity trends.

Next, organize the actual workplace area and keep it neat. Store basic tools, equipment and materials in one workplace location. Eliminate unnecessary time walking back and forth and accomplishing very little.

Make a list of priority and secondary level tasks to be accomplished. Work on two or three of the highest priorities first. After finishing the priority tasks, the secondary list should be much easier. By all means, stop doing multitasking jobs that create timeless effort and confusion.

Many of today’s companies aim at the speed in which tasks get completed. Everything must get done faster than ever. However, mistakes come with too much speed as in “haste makes waste.” It is much better to take a little more time to achieve high-quality results.

How many times have you seen a produce employee hand-carrying a case of product out on the sales floor, resting it on a knee, stocking the display with one hand, then repeating the process over again? It happens in the real world.

There are ways to eliminate labor waste and boost productivity. It may be time for your produce operation to update many of these standards now.

Ron Pelger is the president and CEO of RonProCon, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a co-founder of FreshXperts LLC, a group of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at  775/853-7056 or 775/843-2394 (mobile) or by email at

SEPC News: Looking back on a decade of service to SEPC

It is hard to believe that after a decade in the leadership structure of the Southeast Produce Council, I will soon be on the other side of my day-to-day service, starting the next phase as a member of the council’s advisory board, not an active officer. I have been fortunate enough to be the first SEPC member in council history to hold every office on the board of directors.

But in a few days, at the 2014 Fall Conference at Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa in Young Harris, GA, when I turn over the reins of leadership to current SEPC Vice President Mark Daniels, I will join friends and colleagues — past presidents and trailblazers all — like John Shuman, Mark Hilton, Larry Narwold, Rick Estess, Al Finch and Tom Page on the advisory side of the council’s business.

It will take some getting used to. My tenure with the council has literally reshaped my life, professionally and personally. It’s made my business better. It’s helped me gain perspective. More important, it’s provided me with fellowship and friends who will be part of my life forever.

Mostly it’s shown me that no matter how much individuals may be able to accomplish working on their own, a band of brethren with common goals and common interests can multiply those efforts exponentially. Alone, we can each carry a few rocks on our backs. Together, we can move mountains — and we have.

As much as I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this success, it is simply not possible in this space. The council is truly a team effort, all for one and one for all. I am grateful to everyone who paved the way for me and for the extraordinary success and impact SEPC has had. I have had a relatively easy ride in my two years as president, and the work of those who came before me made that possible. They built a fine-tuned machine that requires only regular maintenance to keep humming like a performance engine. My goal has been to keep it humming, listening to the wisdom and experience of my peers and colleagues, and making a few tweaks that will hopefully make the job even easier for those coming after me.

Taking over the presidency from John Shuman at the 2012 SEPC Fall Conference in Asheville, NC, was both a humbling and challenging experience. After years of preparation, I was now taking on the role of leading the premiere regional produce association in the United States. My first goal was simply not to break it.

But with the team we have in place, the volunteers who serve tirelessly, including our committee chairs and the growing membership and our collective sense of purpose, I now realize I never should have worried.

Over the last two years, our accomplishments have been many and impactful, starting with a membership increase of more than one-third.

We continued to break records for attendance and revenue at the 2013 and 2014 Southern Exposure trade shows. At the same time, despite ever-increasing demand, we have been able to manage growth so as not to dilute value to our members and exhibitors. We currently have more than 80 would-be exhibitors on a waiting list for booth space to Southern Exposure in 2015.

The fall conference has continued to grow. We had record attendance in 2013 in Myrtle Beach, SC, and that record may fall again this month at Brasstown Valley.

Our social media outreach and marketing efforts have increased, including new and significant presence on outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

We have continued to raise the bar for keynote speakers. In the last two years, we have been fortunate to have legends and luminaries from the world of sports like Lou Holtz, Bill Cowher, Bobby Bowden and, at the upcoming fall conference, John Smoltz, share insights into the secrets of success.

We added more schools and more students to our STARS scholarship program, now led by Joe Watson. We also expanded our scholarship program for member families; this year, not a single child of a member seeking scholarship money was turned away. We are beginning our fifth year with our very successful STEP-UPP program, led by Faye Westfall and past President Tom Page.

And while the council has been blessed to have few failures as we have grown and moved forward, we did suffer one tremendous loss recently with the passing of founder and Executive Director Terry Vorhees. Simply put, without Terry, there would have never been a Southeast Produce Council. Without his tremendous vision and ceaseless efforts, the council would not have grown into the powerful force it has become.

There is no way to replace a man like Terry. He left an indelible mark that will guide our organization for years to come. And he will live forever in the hearts of those of us who were privileged enough to call him friend.

But we are also fortunate to be able to close ranks and move forward with another experienced leader, David Sherrod, who trained under Terry — as we all did — as an SEPC officer and who will officially become the council’s executive director at the fall conference. He will be great! As will the Southeast Produce Council.

At times like these, most people say they have mixed emotions about a change in life. I do not. I will miss being a daily part of the council.

I would like to also thank my wife, Jennifer, and our three girls for the love and support they have provided over the years that have helped make all of this possible.

I promise I will not ride quietly into the sunset. The Southeast Produce Council has given me a great deal, and I will always be seeking ways to repay that debt. I look forward to continuing to help SEPC prosper and grow in any way I can and help position our incredible organization to be of service to our industry for many years to come.

United Fresh Produce Association honors Paramount Citrus

The United Fresh Produce Association honored Paramount Citrus as the Produce Industry Advocate of the Year earlier this week at its Washington Conference. Paramount Citrus has been a long-time leader in the public policy arena, serving on several of United’s boards and councils, including United’s board of directors.uflogo

Additionally, Paramount Citrus executives have been major supporters of the United FreshPAC, and the company has consistently sponsored events at United’s annual Washington policy conference. Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association president and chief executive officer, presented the award to David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus.

“Paramount Citrus has been a leader in the public policy arena at United for many years,” Stenzel said in a press release. “Their consistent support of United’s public policy programs, including sponsorships at the Washington Conference and United’s annual conventions, demonstrates the commitment of Paramount Citrus and their partners in the Roll Corporation for advancing produce industry priorities here in Washington, DC.”

Paramount Citrus is a major supporter of United’s Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, which, in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, donates salad bars to schools to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables for the nation’s children. The salad bar initiative is just one part of United’s public policy agenda for improving child nutrition through increased consumption of fresh produce.

The United Fresh Produce Industry Advocate of the Year Award pays special recognition to one United Fresh member each year that serves as an advocate for the entire produce industry. Honorees are leading companies and associations that make an impact and drive the industry forward.

Past award winners include the following:

  • 2013 - Del Monte Fresh Produce
  • 2012 - Four Seasons Family of Cos.
  • 2011 - Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association; National Watermelon Association
  • 2010 - C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.
  • 2009 - Pro*Act LLC
  • 2008 - Walter P. Rawl & Sons
  • 2007 - New York Apple Association Inc.
  • 2006 - Sunkist Growers Inc.
  • 2005 - L&M Cos.
  • 2004 - Produce for Better Health Foundation
  • 2003 - Tanimura & Antle
  • 2002 - Capital City Fruit Co. Inc.

Keynote breakfast a highlight of NEPC expo

NEWPORT, RI — The keynote breakfast Thursday morning, Sept. 11, was just one of the many highlights at the New England Produce Council's 2014 Produce & Floral Expo.

NEPC President Bob McGowan of Northeast Produce Sales welcomed everyone to the breakfast, beginning with a moment of silence in remembrance of the terrorist attacks on the United States back on Sept. 11, 2001.

He noted that 2014 represents "our 15th annual NEPC expo," adding,nepc1535Krista Neher "We really appreciate the support of all our sponsors."

Krista Neher, author, social media pioneer and chief executive officer of Boot Camp Digital, delivered the keynote address, focusing on the role of social media and how businesses can utilize this expanding phenomenon.

Social media "is about the people you want to connect with," she said, and retailers "can use social media as well." There is an "inherent trust in brands [that] people have heard of," so "get in front of them," she said. "We like people and products the more we see them."

nepc1547CeCe Krumrine was honored at the NEPC 2014 Produce & Floral Expo as the New England Person of the Year. Shown with her were her husband, Mike (right); her daughter and son-in-law, Nicci and Chris Rheault; and her granddaughter, Chase. (Photo by Gordon M. Hochberg)She said that a key to success is getting out a message that is really useful and creative, not simply a static one.

Following the keynote address, CeCe Krumrine was announced as the New England Person of the Year. Krumrine has been a merchandiser for a number of commodity boards during her career, and she co-founded the New England Produce Council back in 1995.

"I love this industry," said Krumrine, who was moved to tears by the award, especially as members of her family gathered around her. "You have all been mentors to me. Wow."

The trade show, set up outside under tents, followed the keynote breakfast.

Del Monte Fresh hosting third annual 'Go Bananas! Halloween Costume Giveaway'

go-banGo-Bananas-Halloween-PromotDel Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. is hosting its third annual "Go Bananas! Halloween Costume Giveaway" in an effort to encourage healthy eating and living during the Halloween holiday and to promote Del Monte premium bananas as alternatives to traditional Halloween treats.

The sweepstakes will give consumers the chance to win a "Del Monte" branded banana costume to wear for their Halloween festivities.

The Go Bananas! promotion will randomly award a banana costume to 1,000 Del Monte social media fans who enter online at

In addition, users who submit photos of past Halloween costumes and use the hashtag #IdRatherBeABanana, will gain an additional five entries.

"We have seen a tremendous amount of positive feedback from consumers and we are excited to bring the promotion back for another year," Dennis Christou, vice president of North American Marketing for Del Monte Fresh, said in a press release. "Consumers love dressing up as bananas and it is a great opportunity to reward our loyal fans while at the same time promoting healthy Halloween treats. We haven't seen anyone turn down a Del Monte banana costume yet, or the chance to pose in one! They'd all rather be a Del Monte banana."

The promotion will be supported throughout the United States and Canada with secondary banana stickers, point-of-sale material to liven up banana displays for Halloween, and through Del Monte's social media platforms.

The three-week promotion will begin Sept. 15 and end Oct. 5 in order to guarantee delivery in time for Halloween.

For more information about Del Monte's Go Bananas giveaway, contact your local Del Monte Fresh Produce representative or visit us at