Employees’ Education Shouldn’t Stop During Summer

Originally printed in the July 2018 issue of Produce Business.

During the peak of the summer selling season, there are more opportunities than at any other time to introduce customers to the various varieties of fruits and vegetables. To do this properly, management must provide information on each variety, including production area, quality and uses. Upper management often does not support the additional hours and development of information needed to educate department personnel. Yet, all management wants to have enough personnel to keep up presentation during this peak season. Upper management’s ignorance and lack of enthusiasm for this educational opportunity and the benefits it provides proves, “They just don’t get it!”

Consumers often say they want to know about the fruits and vegetables they are purchasing. They react positively when dealing with employees who understand the different varieties of produce and how best to select and use them. This knowledge is a powerful force, providing a vehicle not only to bring consumers into the store but also to keep them returning.

Personal interaction and dissemination of information in store, especially in produce, is valued highly. Providing accurate facts on fruits and vegetables is vital because it enhances the reputation, professionalism and care of the department in providing customers what they need when making purchases.

Consumers often say they want to know about the fruits and vegetables they are purchasing. They react positively when dealing with employees who understand the different varieties of produce and how best to select and use them.

The best part is, this information is readily available throughout the industry and can easily be shared with department members. All it takes is a designed program to provide timely information as each item comes into its season — on its taste, quality and uses. Beyond the benefit to consumers, it also helps employees develop into true produce professionals.

There are a few pitfalls that must be avoided — the overzealous use of information or the exaggeration of facts. Employees who give false information about projects or interject their personal beliefs could destroy any potential benefit. Newer employees who are still learning are particularly susceptible, especially without proper training. The wise operator makes sure the newest employees know to refer customers to another department member when they cannot answer questions.

Savvy customers who are fed a less-than-truthful answer can quickly verify the information by simply checking the Internet. If false, it can damage the reputation of the entire store.
Still, the opportunity to provide information about all the products in the produce department by courteous, well-educated personnel far outweighs the risk. Well-educated employees become “experts” that share their expertise while building trust with consumers.

In this ever-changing marketplace, trust is one commodity that is absolutely key to the survival and growth of any operation. This type of program is a small investment that can reap big benefits in terms of sales as well as the reputation of the department and the store.


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 [email protected].

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