Best Path Forward

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the October 2021 issue of Produce Business.

As we move forward in 2021, it seems the pandemic will be with us for a while longer, but overall economic activity and the growth in the marketplace is recovering and moving forward. Successful produce retailers recognize that these times require review and analysis of what has happened and what has changed in order to put together an innovative and progressive strategy to move their operation to the next level.

Upper management doesn’t always see this exercise is necessary and believes that their plans for the company should be reflected by the individual departments. In the case of the Produce Department, this is an incorrect assumption as the unique nature of produce and the myriad changes that have occurred in the past few months requires a deeper dive into the situation. Given management’s preoccupation with their own planning, it further shows that when it comes to preparing a produce strategy “they just don’t get it!”

The best way to analyze and review what has happened over the past few months is to sit down with a blank sheet of paper. On one side of the paper list those things that were done that worked well. This would include any new concepts, new procedures, unique ways of accomplishing tasks and changes that were made to the total operation.

Once this list is completed, look back on each of the points and determine what were the real successes developed during the use and development of this new activity. Also cast a discerning eye on them to see what else could have been done that may have been able to improve upon or better the results from these new operations to be sure that the benefits are maximized.

After this task, you will have the framework for developing a new overall strategy utilizing the original concepts and procedures that were successful prior to the pandemic and incorporate these new and necessary solutions that provided direction during these challenging times. Be certain to include any feedback or input you received from your customers on these new concepts and how it affected their shopping experience. Combining all this data should put you on the road to preparing your best-case scenario strategy going forward.

One thing for certain is that the knowledge and experience gained during the past few months will provide us with a new and different perspective of our operation in the future.

Now move on to the other side of the sheet of paper and list those things you instituted that did not go so well. Once again, include all concepts, procedures, unique programs and solutions that you utilize in the pandemic operation. A careful review in this area is necessary to make sure that any of these errors are not repeated and that any collateral damage is minimized. However, that is not to say that there should be a critical eye cast on each area to see if any part of the failed program has been rectified.

In the evaluation on both sides of your planning sheet, be certain you haven’t let any of your own prejudices or emotional attachments to any individual idea color your judgment as to the placement of them on your sheet.

Now that you have accumulated and evaluated all this data and thoughtful analysis, it’s time to put together your plan for the future of your operation. Be open to combining differing aspects to prepare a different way of doing things. Examine all approaches to various problems and solutions. Consult with others on your team to get their views so that you can accept some of their alternative views to drive the operation forward.

One of the key aspects of this entire planning process and the incorporation of this data would be the need for flexibility in your planning. Don’t get trapped into incorporating too many rigid ideas into the plan and always remember to apply what you’ve learned. One thing for certain is that the knowledge and experience gained during the past few months will provide us with a new and different perspective of our operation in the future.

If there’s one thing the past has taught us, it is that change is inevitable. Embrace change and the opportunities it brings to enhance your operation in new and different ways. By engaging in this type of exercise, you will certainly be able to develop the kind of strategy that will not only help your operations navigate the uncertain future before us but will ensure the continued successful growth of your produce operation. Remember, it’s a “brave new world” that we are facing, and it will take innovative, unique approaches and solutions to succeed.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to