Ever wonder what role the produce department plays in the success of a grocery store? Nic Bundy is the produce manager at Price Chopper and he pulls back the curtain to his world of salad dressings and kale.

Work: It’s what we do

PHOTO: Nic Bundy, produce manager at Price Chopper grocery is always connected to his department where he says it is a destination for the senses. PHOTO JOHN BUCKNER

Nic Bundy is the produce manager at the Price-Chopper grocery store. He was born in Claremore, Oklahoma but raised in many small towns in northwestern Ark, hence his loyalty to Ark. Razorback sports teams. He did a stint in the U.S. Army for three years where he trained as a mechanic. He got out of the army and went to work for Briggs and Stratton, and later, Country Mart grocery in Salem, working for the Gott family. He worked in a grocery, bagging in the checkout lines when he was 16. Though he has been in and out of the grocery business, he says he has logged about 17 years in the sector. He’s happy to be working in a store like Price Chopper and he recognizes the unique experience opportunity he has been given.
“This is a store that you would find in an upper-class urbane area, like a Dierbergs-type store in St. Louis,” he states. “To have this planted in rural Missouri  . . . I hope people realize that and appreciate it.”

How did you get your start?
A store needed someone to bag potatoes in the produce department after school. They liked the way I stacked the potatoes.

Considering all of the different jobs within a grocery store, what attracted you to produce?
This is a department that relies on aesthetics. It’s almost artistic sometimes. There’s a lot more creativity in produce than in any other part of the store. You always want your department to have good value items. You want your shoppers to come into your department and see “value,” to get them excited about the rest of the store. We’re constantly moving things around over here to keep it interesting.
Nic says this includes using the bright colors of fruits and vegetables for the best display advantage to catch the shopper’s eye and to direct them towards value.

He notes that Price Chopper shoppers are always looking to see what’s new. And yet, he says it’s sometimes hard to get them to try something new, as though the items may just be displayed for the shopper’s entertainment value. It gives them something to talk about to other shoppers and that they will eventually try something.

Do you find a big difference between your younger customers and your older customers?
The older customers are into the basics. Younger customers will try something new and will buy a lot of the organic produce. We try to balance everything out between the types of customers [we serve]. It’s a fairly conservative area [as far as buying habits are concerned], though Salem is really conservative [by comparison].
Nic says Rolla is interesting due to the university influence. He buys for the various ethnic groups in town. “You have to support the demand and we try to make it as convenient for them as we can,” he says. “I have to go through other specialty suppliers.”

Can you give me an example?
People are root crazy. Lately, it’s been yucca root, horseradish root, and tumeric root.

In general, or among certain ethnic groups?
In general. A lot of the elderly shoppers say tumeric root is amazing for inflammation. One man told me it was better than his pain prescription. Some of the ethnic groups want certain produce. Some Hispanic shoppers wanted certain peppers, so we brought in Serrano peppers. We may not sell many, but what we’re trying to do is make customers happy. If they’re happy, they’ll tell others. We’re very traditional in that way.
He says they try to treat their customers like it’s the modern store that it is—where you would expect to find the new and different, along with the customer service to back that up, face-to-face with the customer. “We bend over backwards for our customers and you don’t find that in other places,” he says.

What are some trends in the grocery business right now?
You know about kale? Ten years ago it was used as a food garnish and thrown away. Now, we can’t hardly keep it on the shelf. It was declared a vitamin-packed super food, so people buy it for juicing. It’s funny how that kind of stuff happens. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor, it’s just good for you.

Does your produce department depend on sales aids, such as produce misters or audio of thunder when the misters come on to simulate a rain storm?
Salem has that! We have the misters, but don’t have the audio turned on for the thunder.

What do you do with your produce that is getting some age on it?
I donate it to a couple places. They will come by and pick it up on a regular basis—almost every week. I don’t like wasting food. It’s a never-ending battle to cull the aisles, because I want people to come in here and say “Wow, this stuff looks amazing!”

I assume your inventory is all computerized?
Kind of. I still have to go through and see everything. A lot of times it’s educated guess-work. For example, I can look and see I’ve got a case and a half of apples on the shelf. You have to have the ability to do that. There is a lot more of the human element involved here.

When someone comes to your produce section, what is the first thing you want them to notice?
This is a department of the senses—sight, smell and touch—more than any other department in the store. I want them to notice the quality.  

What are some of your responsibilities?
I order almost everything in the department. That includes fruits and vegetables and other things that are related to it, like salad dressings. We have to keep everything looking good over here, so we’re always sorting. Bananas are always spotting so we have to adjust prices to the produce. Price reduction is a part of the business.

Has your military experience helped in any way?
In discipline, yes.
Nic says decision-making and the responsibility that goes with that is another habit he picked up in the military.

What are some of the other skills you need for this job?
You need a good memory. For instance, during this time last year, maybe I sold a lot of head lettuce. You need to remember that. You could miss huge [selling] opportunities if you don’t have that. You’ve got to have a great work ethic, too. You need to be creative. Creativity helps sales which is really the bottom-line of it.

Nic talked about the importance of people skills in the grocery business. He says connecting with shoppers is important throughout the store and emphasized the service nature of the grocery business.
“Customer service is first and foremost,” he says. The marketing value of word of mouth isn’t lost on Nic.
“If you treat people well, it gets talked about.”
He puts in between 52 and 60 hours a week running his produce department.