Navigating Uncharted Territory

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the April 2020 issue of Produce Business.

In times of crisis, it is said: The “best in all of us” steps forward to accept the challenge. The worldwide pandemic that is gripping our marketplaces is no exception. Even upper management understands the seriousness of this challenge, and every executive has reacted in their arena to address the needs of the community. By adjusting hours and providing additional resources in terms of labor and service, management has provided the opportunity for continued access to the food supply. Because of these actions, the produce operation has the ability to provide ample supplies of healthy food to all consumers. It seems like this is one time where, “We all get it!”

In the produce sector, this crisis has provided us with the opportunity to show the world how well we can perform in delivering the needed healthy food solution to everyone. While no one wants to take advantage of this crisis, the industry can show the world and our U.S. customers the strength of the agricultural community and its ability to provide needed healthy food in ample quantities. We are fortunate our products contain an abundance of the vitamins and minerals necessary to be healthy and provide support for our immune systems. We are also fortunate to have the ability to provide for everyone’s use all of the fresh produce they might need.

For our part, progressive produce retailers need to move in specific directions to take advantage and utilize to its fullest, the new structure that has been instituted by management. Specific direction should be provided to the stores about how to utilize the new operating hours and distribution schedules to ensure their departments are fully stocked and ready for the consumer. With most retailers limiting hours of operation to facilitate faster and more complete stocking of the store, the produce department must use this schedule to enhance its ability to serve the public as well as ensure the safety of its employees.

By stocking as much product during the hours the stores are closed, it will allow for ease-of-shopping by the consumer. This action will allow the department to be full and fresh upon opening, and it will facilitate fewer trips to the floor for restocking. As a result, this will limit the employees’ overall exposure to the public. While practicing “social distancing” on the sales floor (and the back room) may be difficult and would seem to isolate employees from the public, direction from management on how to maintain personal interaction with the consumer is vital. Allowing the employees to offer suggestions or information on various produce items and their impact and benefit on health and/or our immune systems will allow for interaction while maintaining safe “distancing.” This type of courtesy and helpfulness in this critical time will leave a lasting impression in the minds of the shoppers.

While no one wants to take advantage of this crisis, the industry can show the world and our U.S. customers the strength of the agricultural community and its ability to provide needed healthy food in ample quantities.

Another area of vital importance during this critical juncture is the execution of the cleaning and sanitation of your department, which is part of normal operations. In addition to providing a clean and sanitary environment for your customers to select their produce items, it provides assurance and ensures your employees are working in a safe environment and keeping shoppers and other employees safe from spreading or contracting the coronavirus. Be sure to remind key employees that it is their responsibility to follow all procedures, including wearing gloves and clean aprons when they are working on the floor.

During this time of trial, the consumers will be facing many challenging situations, and they will need an area where they can escape these daily stresses. By directing your stores to provide an abundant supply of healthy, fresh produce in an environment that is clean and safe, you are providing a haven the consumer wants and needs. This type of service will enhance the reputation and perception not only of your store, but also of the entire, worldwide-produce industry.

We’re all embarking on a new era, and we are faced with uncertainty of what the future will bring; however, history tells us those who act positively and swiftly in these times will be better prepared to meet the challenges of the new “reality.” Whatever lies ahead, proper action and direction during this period of uncertainty will ensure the continued success, health and prosperity of the produce industry and our customers as well. rest.

Don Harris
Don Harris

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