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In the Trenches: A produce manager’s 15 key duties

Fresh departments are the major drawing points in supermarkets today. Fresh is a leading reason consumers choose a specific store to do their regular grocery shopping. It is such an important rationale that most shoppers will bypass other supermarkets that are closer to their homes just for the superior quality and wholesome food of another store. Fresh produce is the primary focal point in making their decision.

Most supermarkets have the same brands of grocery items. Whether it’s soup, coffee, milk, juice or salad dressings, grocery stores offer comparable items and brands at similar prices. However, which store has the best fresh fruit and vegetable department?

Since produce is recognized as the most important department in the store, it then has the most potential for building sales and profit growth for a company. Fresh produce can make a big difference in one store over another. But what and who makes it the best?

Operating a produce department is a fast-paced business and it takes a highly knowledgeable and skilled person to engineer it. That person is the produce manager. He or she has many responsibilities that are often not realized.

I have had inquiries from supermarket owners asking me what the actual job description is for a produce manager. When I ask them for their own description, they can rarely offer a complete picture of the job.

The primary responsibility of the produce manager is to achieve produce sales and gross profit. In addition, he or she is responsible for overseeing all produce personnel in coaching, supervising, evaluating and controlling the entire produce department operation.

Here are 15 basic responsibilities of a produce manager:

Produce sales volume — Build sales growth for the company. Meet budgeted goals set by management. Be sales-minded, enthusiastic and aggressive within the means of controlling expenses.

Produce gross margin — Monitor and generate gross profit margin with special diligence. Use display strategy and product mix to generate profit dollars.  

Merchandising displays — Use creative and unique ingenuity and skills to set the department to convey excellence in workmanship, art of display, customer appeal and innovation.

Inventory management — Control the ordering and assets in a timely manner keeping in mind that sales volume is most important and must never be jeopardized. Put planning, time and thought into ordering product for each category section with little carry over until the next delivery.

Expense control — Manage labor costs through intelligent work scheduling based on sales days, holidays and special promotions. Control utilities like keeping cooler doors closed and lights out when not in use. Maintain clean refrigerated cases and coolers to prevent expensive repair costs. Keep supplies in check.

Shrink control — Maintain freshness throughout the department to prevent shriveling. Oversee employees, especially part-timers, to ensure product waste does not occur. Check all vendors for correct item count and charges. Handle and rotate all items on display carefully to avoid damage loss.

Quality and condition control — Ensure all items are of good quality and condition on arrival and on display at all times. Trim and crisp all items required to maintain freshness and shelf life.

Customer satisfaction — Listen and deliver whatever customers prefer. Be knowledgeable about produce items, including where they originate, their flavor profile, how to prepare them and their availability. Show respect and smile at all times to customers.

Security and protection of assets — Be responsible for locked doors, especially delivery areas. Observe all areas to protect against possible theft. Observe vendors going in and out of delivery doors.

Safety — Prevent customer and employee accidents by controlling floors, displays, mechanical equipment, trimming tools and back-room operations. Be especially cautious of all food products and ensure they are safe for consumers.

Cleanliness and sanitation — Maintain a cleaning and sanitation schedule for all employees to take part in specific assignments. Use only authorized cleaning materials approved for use around food areas.

Supervisory — Allocate a work production list to each employee and check for assignments to be completed. Evaluate the quality and quantity of work of each employee.

Competition checks — Make regular weekly checks of the key competitors produce operations, displays, items and retails.

Work simplification — Devise ways to make tasks easier, faster and safer. Focus on productive work. Keep work motions as simple as possible.

Meetings — Hold weekly meetings with produce employees. Review ad items, seasonal change, promotions, display strategy, operating functions, schedules and sales goals.

There are other responsibilities, but these are significant for achieving superior results. Produce calls for much sophistication these days than in the past. Consumers have more options in choosing their stores. It’s the professional skills by the produce manager that will be the determining factor.