For starters, most people have no background in this area and nobody has ever explained the downside to bad handling and storage. I once sat behind a large one-way window with the manager of a branch of an upmarket retailer, who had invited me to observe how the customers in his store handled the loose fruit on display.
At the outset, I expected that the customers of such a retailer would be more, shall we say, ‘sophisticated’. Well, that perception quickly flew out the window as I watched shoppers ‘attack’ perfectly good avocados and other loose fruit. I was even more amazed when the store manager assured me that this was normal behaviour.
Part of the problem is that the next shopper might have bought the mishandled fruit, only to discover the bruising after a day or two. This in turn would have led to dissatisfaction with the store itself. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done about this sort of problem.
The store manager could have put up signs asking shoppers to ‘handle the produce with care’, but most people would not even have noticed them. And the curse of bad handling is not restricted to loose fruit either. Packaged fruit also gets tossed around as shoppers search for the ‘best’ pack. In most cases, they don’t really know what this means – the produce should simply look ‘nice’.
The irony is that consumers continually tell us about how they want good quality fresh fruit and vegetables, but how many of them realise they are part of the problems?
Managing staff well
I’ve often seen how the staff can be equally guilty of damaging the fruit. I once saw a worker in a retailer stack bananas on the shelf by turning the carton upside down and letting the fruit fall out. Bad handling at retail level is a problem I suspect most stores don’t want to admit to. The question is: what is management doing about it?
The retail link in the supply chain might be the last one, but it remains one of the most crucial.