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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Develop A Vision For Your Produce Department

Mark Mulcahy

I recently held a workshop in Minnesota for produce managers from all-sized departments around the country. We met to discuss ideas about how to run an efficient, organized, easy-to-manage, viable department—and a fun one that serves the communities' needs. One of the first steps to achieving these goals is creating a vision for the produce department.

Many groups and organizations, from school gardens to mountaineering businesses, have vision statements that define the group's utimate mission and help develop the objectives that will lead them there. Produce departments shouldn't be an exception. So I asked the assembled produce managers what their visions were for their departments? Surprisingly, many produce departments didn't have a written vision statement. Of those that did, many managers couldn't tell me exactly what it said or whether it had been reviewed recently to see if fit the current department. In some cases, vision statements were based on old department goals that were handed down, covering what used to be the norm.

I've heard several produce managers through the years say, "My crew just doesn't get what I'm trying to do here!" So I asked, "How do you expect your crew to buy into your dream when they may not even know what you are trying to accomplish?"

If you want your crew to buy into the daily small-picture stuff, then you have to take time and help them understand the big picture. The rotating, culling, prepping, receiving, pricing, displaying, ordering and inventorying will all take on more importance if the crew understands where you are trying to take the department. Going through the process of developing a vision statement can also help you to figure out what it is you are trying to do, and how you are going to map a path to your dream.

Here's an example that shows how having a vision can start your department on the road to improvement:

Produce Vision: To serve the community as a resource for the best produce and an entertaining place to learn about food and related issues.

Objectives to meet the mission:

  • Provide the highest quality produce at fair prices;
  • Provide a pleasurable and satisfying shopping experience;
  • Be a trusted community resource for quality organic produce;
  • Support local certified- and registered-organic farms;
  • Provide education for staff and customers.

The group spent time creating or adjusting their own mission statements. Boy, you could really see the wheels turning. We came up with some great beginnings.

So how do you get started? Why not start 2002 with a crew meeting to find out what their perceptions are regarding the department's mission? Write yours down, too. Once you have all the ideas together, look at what's realistic and start small. Be willing to adjust the vision as your department grows. Don't paint yourself into a corner by saying the store only carries organic products if you don't have the suppliers to make it happen. Instead say, "We will strive to carry only the best-quality organic produce available." If you aren't the best typist or don't have the best writing skills, ask for help. Perhaps someone on your crew or in your store can turn your thoughts into a clearly written vision statement.

The most important reason to solidify your vision is so your customers know who and what they are supporting. What makes your store different from the mega-store that sells a five-pound bag of organic carrots for a dollar less? Is the produce you buy from local farmers the same as what your competition calls local? One produce manager buys local produce from within a 50-mile radius, while a larger competitor's "local" program meant it bought from anywhere in the western United States. Many customers assume when they shop in a natural foods store that everything is organic. Is this true? Do you think your customers know the difference?

Creating a clear vision statement can be the difference between perceptions and reality. And that can help us all see eye to eye.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm in Glen Ellen, Calif. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or by e-mail at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 1/p. 31

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