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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Freshen Up Your Department's Work Routine

Produce Perspectives

Produce managers are a busy lot. So when I suggest new ideas for their departments, I often hear, ?I know your ideas will help and I would love to change, but I already work 10-hour days.?

What I find is that produce managers usually are their own worst enemies when it comes to time management. So the first step we take to make their departments run smoother, feel less chaotic and provide more job satisfaction is to look at where their time goes.

First we write down what they do every day. Then we list things they must do, such as:

  • Signs (write in prices, make sure they are in place on the stand, etc.)
  • Prices (calculate margin, change in the POS system)
  • Merchandise (keep the department looking abundant, maintain attractive seasonal displays)
  • Receive the order (check invoice, rotate old stock)
  • Order (inventory, review price lists, place orders)

Then we write down the time needed to do each task. This is often quite revealing.

Next, we make a list of those things they would like to do if they had the time:

  • Daily sampling
  • New grower information board
  • A new farm-to-school-to-store program
  • Keep up with the latest in the industry
  • More time to work the floor

Finally, we move on to the ?need to but just can?t find the time? list. This might include employee evaluations (I?m amazed at how many managers let these slip through the cracks, not recognizing how much this can affect an employee?s morale) or department financials tracking.

Once this categorization process is completed, start asking the hard questions:

  • Do you really need to be the one who changes the prices on signs?
  • Should you be doing the receiving?
  • Do you give ordering the time it really needs?

Often the answer is no, but usually with an excuse of ?If I don?t, who will??

So we review the crew?s strengths and realize that it wouldn?t take much training to allow others to help. The biggest obstacle for produce managers may be letting go of their egos. After identifying allies, we start assigning tasks. We?ll allow Sara, who works in the mornings, to do the signs, and Phil, who has good organizational skills, to start receiving.

Then we start plugging in wants and needs. What?s the produce manager?s slowest afternoon? Let?s free up two hours then for department administration, such as evaluations. And Matt has been wanting to learn to open, so we will train him and free an hour a week for the manager to work on or delegate new projects.

But as we know, a plan on paper is only the beginning. Now comes the difficult part: making it a reality and breaking old habits. Start by scheduling the time and honoring it. This means completing one set of tasks before moving on to the next. Too often, produce managers don?t set boundaries, so they are constantly putting out fires, which only distract them from what they really should be doing. Once you?ve established a schedule, let your crew know that they shouldn?t bother you with unnecessary questions. If something comes up they can put a note in your box or talk to you after you complete your job. Better yet, they can figure out a solution on their own.

By establishing boundaries you will find that you have a clearer mind and more creative energy. You will also have a less dependent crew.

If you need help to get started, ask your supervisor for some extra hours to do the necessary training.

Now that you?re moving in the right direction, look at your crew and do the same with them. Change isn?t easy, but it?s better than the way it was. And, as with any positive change, once it becomes the norm you?ll wonder how you ever did it any other way.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. Contact him at 707.939.8355 or

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 2/p. 44

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