The Produce Project: Day 2

I recently worked at a supermarket produce department for three months, an endeavor I’ve dubbed The Produce Project. On the first day of work, I got right into the action by tossing more than 50 pounds of ”sell-by” date casualties and watching some computer training videos.

Because the second day began in the afternoon, I missed the morning cull. Instead, I spent most of my time stocking the produce section for night shoppers. The store remained open until 11 p.m., so we tried to have everything mostly full when the last produce employee left at 7 or 8.

My boss Larry, who told me he has 32 years of experience in the biz, stressed the importance of having neat and brimming displays. The latter bit of shopping psychology interests me most–this idea that nobody wants to buy from the dregs. That’s why they restock for relatively few night shoppers. The produce would be better off in the store room, but the supermarket’s main focus is sales, not maximizing its products’ lifespan. 

It’s a tradeoff. They’re willing to toss a bunch of loose mushrooms that sat out overnight in hopes of selling more by having a full-looking display. It’s not necessarily wrong, just interesting. They know they won’t sell all of them, but figure they might lose a sale with a half-full bin.

Also, the store’s worst-case scenario would be missing a sale because an item isn’t on the shelf. Supermarkets avoid that at all costs by routinely overordering, and, thus, knowingly creating food waste.

In between restocking, I watched another training video on the computer, which included a video game-like interactive section. They’d show a picture of a pear or head of lettuce with some bad spots and ask, “Would you leave this on the shelf?” The answers were obvious and the lesson learned was simple: throw out anything with a bad spot, bruise or bump.

Finally, I learned that there isn’t much waste when it comes to the store uniform. That’s because they make you buy your own supermarket logo shirt (to be worn with khakis). On the plus side, I now have a souvenir from my time in produce. 

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  1. Yvette
    Posted June 1, 2007 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I was wondering if when you were working at this grocery store you presented any ideas about food recovery to the manager? I also wonder if this, food recovery, is something that a local grocery store can participate in as individual stores-or is it a choice that has to be made by someone at corporate head quarters?

    I would like to know how many people and are aware that there is an alternative to just putting food in a dumpster?

  2. Jonathan
    Posted June 1, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Hey Yvette, the short answer is that I did raise the topic with my manager. As for how that went, you’ll have to wait for the rest of the Produce Project posts. But it’s a good reminder to get back to those. There’s been so much happening in ‘waste news’ that I’ve been
    neglecting my tales of produce employment.

    As for whether it’s an individual store’s or the corporate headquarters’ choice, the answer is yes. As long as headquarters doesn’t ban the idea of donating, as Wal-Mart did recently, then it’s up to each store’s manager. But many times the manager will blame it on corporate and corporate will say it’s up to the manager. That’s a fun game to play…

    I can’t speak for most produce managers, but the one at our store knew that there were alternatives to chucking food in the dumpster. He just wasn’t gonna go out of his way to make that happen.

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