I did my best to ignore the packaging sticking to my fingers as I took them from my cart and fixed them onto the shelf. When you’re just trying to get the work done, you don’t realize that your gloves are lathered with watermelon juice when snapping the packages closed. The newest packs, of course, needed to go in the back. Balancing three ‘family size’ packages of pineapple on one hand, I took the sticky packages and squeezed them past the family sized watermelon and cantaloupe. I replaced the older packages of pineapple in front of the fresh ones, which were a dollar off due to being packaged three days ago. I found it laughable how people got so turned off by the idea of discounted produce, and needed to bite my lip to keep from grinning when I would catch them rummaging around my wall of fruit, messing up the pretty rows I spent a few extra minutes making, in order to reach the fresher fruit I so wickedly hid in the back. Part of me would like to point out that the cut fruit sitting at the salad bar, waiting to be packaged and weighed by the customer, would be more fruit for a lower price. But I keep quiet, because I save that piece of information for the customer that somehow manages to lighten my day, instantly darkened upon arrival at good ol’ Kutztown’s Giant Foodstore. I’ve only met that customer once, but that seems fair, since I hide in the back with my fruit. I’m like a monster living in a cave, hissing whenever the mention of stepping onto the sales floor interrupts my slicing.
Having worked at a restaurant since I began my employed life (from McDonalds to fine dining), I didn’t know what to expect with the new territory of a grocery store; the idea of cashier and stock-girl seemed like positions fit for zombies, so with my friend’s advice, I decided to apply for produce. After three separate orientation visits to the store and four hours of ‘online-learning,’ explaining different fruits, measurement procedures, and basic-sanitation (kid you not), I was finally able to become acquainted with my new place of employment for the next nine months. I already had my first paycheck in despite not getting a chance to actually work yet, my uniform still waiting patiently, untouched. On my first day, the same friend who nudged me towards the produce department grinned at me with a machete in hand. It stretched far out from his side, almost in line with his grin, and dripped a watery red from the dismembered watermelon behind him: “I’m gonna teach ya’ how to cut fruit today.” And so, he introduced me to my permanent place and responsibility at Giant.
We began walking towards the front of the store; the melon bar was right by the doors. He paused to fix a display of fresh guacamole. “I get why the fruit’s fresh, but this and the salsa comes in a bag. What’s fresh about that?” It was a good question. At the melon bar, his eyes scanned from left to right while he jotted on the clipboard. As he worked, he explained how I should go about making a list. The breakdown is fairly simple: There are three different package sizes: small, large, and family. Giant offers pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, assorted berries, and a few other fresh fruits cut in-store daily. The front display is three packages high, and the melon bar is considered full when there are at least two backups hidden behind. If two of the three that are in the front are a dollar off, you want to add another two backups to replace them since they will be removed from the shelf the next morning. Fruit becomes a dollar off after being on the shelf for two days. After its third, into the compost it goes.
Packaging berries involves much less cutting, but much more running onto the sales floor (which, I’ll remind you, is something I hate). There are the small and large mixed berry (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries) packages with mango slices, and the family pack of the same berries minus the mango. The mango comes sliced in packaging from some other place, and I take it off the shelf, distribute the slices amongst the berries, and slap a Giant sticker on it. If the berries aren’t in the produce cooler, I pull them from the sales floor, undoing the work of my fellow coworkers — the same goes for the melons and pineapples, but they’re almost always in that handy cooler. For the blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, I simply transfer them from their branded package to the Giant packaging. There are bins to the right of my working space that usually overflow with the plastic from these other distributors. I’ll spend a half hour cutting ten containers of 16oz Driscoll strawberries, which gets extremely tedious. I often find myself zoning out while moving the knife across the berries, which is definitely not the safest way to work. Other products I throw together are these ‘parfait cups’ — they’re eight ounce cups with a rounded lid, like a slurpee lid, so probably makes ten ounces of fruit all together. Next to those sit the yogurt cups, which is Giant brand nonfat vanilla yogurt with fruit and vanilla-crunch granola. We’re supposed to get bags of a higher quality greek yogurt for these, but the managers never seem to order them, and I walk all across the store to the dairy section to get Giant brand nonfat vanilla and bring it to the service desk, so they can ring it up and mark it as ‘store-supply.’ They come with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blueberries and raspberries together, and are one of the biggest pains in my ass.
There are small, large, and family size mixed fruit as well, which are the main guys with the addition of grapes. My routine consists of me using the bin-fruit I have and packing it all up, then I’ll fill the rest of the packs I need before filling the bin. I caught a wiff of something foul while I was working, and with a scrunched nose I turned to ask, “How often are we supposed to wash these?” The associate I asked thought for a moment, and finally raised his shoulders with a small “Eh.” The bin looked grody, but you can see that it’s nearly brand new in the photo below. The shift is made up of decisions the employee has to make: to wash the bins or not, to rinse the cutting board in between fruit for allergy prevention, to throw the piece of dropped fruit in the compost or in the package. Those decisions go behind each package of fruit, and perhaps if more people saw behind the scenes of a large supermarket company, they wouldn’t be so trusting. It’s not like they should be throwing their money at big corporations, anyway; in that photo there are two family packs of pineapple with the empty bin above on the right. Here’s a secret for you cut-in-store fruit lovin’ folks: one pineapple = one family pack, and the price for a family pack can range anywhere from six to eight dollars. So why do I still have a job cutting up fruit for packaging at a higher price for the customer? Isn’t it obvious how much more money the convenience of pre-cut fruit costs? Doesn’t everyone, like myself and my fellow co-workers who will time and time again offer a laugh on the subject, agree that it’s not worth it?
Lingering around the melon bar after stocking has provided some interesting opportunities for eavesdropping. “Dude, that’s like, four more bucks for cantaloupe. Let’s just get one over there.” I watched the two boys in their gym shorts, high socks, and baseball caps are contemplate the family size package of cantaloupes. He’s right; the package is seven bucks, and just like the pineapple, one family size = one whole fruit. (Except for the watermelon, as one quarter fits in a family pack, and one whole watermelon fits in a ‘luau bowl’ for the whopping price of 16-18 dollars.) With the cantaloupes priced at three each, that makes it four dollars more expensive. The boy who had the package in his hands cocked a brow at his objecting friend before asking, “Oh yeah? You know how to cut up a cantaloupe?” I resisted the urge to clap a hand to my forehead, and continued to fiddle with the display of grapes, which kept my back to them. A beat of silence was followed by the sound of plastic colliding with the hollow metal of the cart before they continued on. I understand students living in the dorms would prefer the pre-cut fruit due to not having the usual kitchen utensils, or a traveler passing through Kutztown, on-the-go, and longing for some fruit to much on; they make perfect melon bar customers. However, perfection is rarely found, especially at Giant. The amount of fruit I package caters to a much wider variety of customers, most of whom are simply apathetic to the price of convenience. I don’t have any room to complain, or judge these customers, since their carelessness is what, ultimately, makes up my paychecks.