Monday, June 17, 2013

Meet Lloyd Pickering: The Co-op's Produce Manager

by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator

The produce manager’s role at a food co-op is very different than that of their counterpart working at a grocery store chain. At a chain store, the produce manager typically contacts a single food distributor and places an order that is predetermined by corporate metrics.

At the Concord Food Co-op, produce ordering is far more complex. Lloyd Pickering has been the produce manager at the Co-op for five years.  He started with the Co-op managing the dairy department and later the meat department, before settling in with fruits and vegetables. In all, he brings 35 years of retail experience to the Co-op.

Lloyd has developed relationships with over fifty growers in the greater Concord area. He is continuously negotiating with additional farmers that are interested in developing wholesale accounts. Managing so many small farm accounts takes a lot of time and energy to stay on top of orders, especially during the peak produce growing season. All of our local and regional produce comes from farmers who have been vetted by the Co-op to ensure the quality, health and safety of the produce in our store.
In order to get to know Lloyd a little better, we asked him a few questions.
What are some of the unique challenges managing a Co-op Produce Department?
“One of the biggest challenges is educating customers about where specific produce are coming from during the local growing season. Sometimes it’s necessary to explain why I have selected to offer local products that weren’t organic, versus buying the same produce organically grown in California or Mexico.  I explain that many times a local farm may be practicing organic methods at their farm, but can’t afford to go through the expense of organic certification. Some farms may be observing organic practices and are awaiting certification, but essentially the produce is organically grown.”

Typically what do Co-op customers ask for when they see you in the produce aisle? “I have found that Co-op customers are loyal to the point where they want specific produce from specific farms. This is hard to manage though. During the normal growing season it is common that the farmers have the same vegetables available at the same time. I need to be very careful not to step on anyone’s toes. As it is paramount to treat all farmers fairly it is a balancing act to when it comes to divvying up the Co-op’s produce ordering.  Mostly our customers want to know what items are locally grown. When we have our hoop house produce in the case, customers will almost always choose that over other options.”

What are some of the changes you have seen since last year’s expansion of the Co-op? “The biggest change has been the different types of people who buy produce. In the past it seemed like customers had to go out of their way to find the produce department. Those people were very committed to buying local produce. The new store configuration has all customers needing to first walk by the produce department.  We now have better visibility and in my mind that has resulted in a considerable increase in produce purchasing."

Is there something you would like to see offered in produce that you can't find? Just ask Lloyd and he will be glad to look into it for you.