[AMA] Ex Woolworths Fresh Department Manager

Employee of 10 years.
Worked in Management for 3 of those years.
Was apart of a store management program
Ran Deli/Seafood/Produce Departments in a QLD/NSW Store
Resigned Early this year
AMA

Boilerplate: these are my views, not the company's.

Related Stores

Woolworths
Woolworths

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  • When there's a good sale/discount on something do staff hide some stock away for themselves?

    • yes

    • I have seen this yes, although its not as often as you would think

  • When I worked as a "casual boy" at a Coles supermarket's fruit&veg section in the 70's, we had 2 production lines.

    1 person packed fruit on to a Styrofoam plate.
    1 person wrapped the tray in plastic wrap (the cutting wire was very hot and many fingers were burnt)
    1 (smart) person then manually (yes!) calculated the price on the "weighing scale" and handwrote the price on a sticker which was then applied to the tray.

    Putting lettuce on display required 2 people.

    1 person removed lettuce from the box and sliced the brown bit (and dodgy leaves) from the root of the lettuce.

    1 person then held open the plastic bag into which the first person placed the lettuce.

    Labour intensive!

    There were at least 7 full timers and around 4 casual boys. Two of the full timers had formed a volatile relationship which often festered out in the open. No management action was ever taken!

    Anyway - the question!

    How many are employed directly in a "produce" section these days? Are there any "career" roles in produce?

    • +2

      I managed a smallish store, in my experience I had roughly 10 staff in total for Produce with rarely no more than 2 plus myself people at a time.
      In produce you are pretty much doing all of that yourself. Breaking down pallets of loads and putting crates away in the cold-room, running stock and making sure the store is full at all times, doing scheduled markdowns, and making sure stock rotation is done correctly. cutting and wrapping fruit and vege such as lettuce, celary, pumpkin, and all your melons.
      It is a very physical job!
      career wise. Not really. There is a Produce Department manager and 2IC (Both salaried 40hr week jobs) but nothing above that. Anyone looking for a further career usually tries to get into Groceries which is often the step below Assistant Store management

    • I am a full timer at woolies and work in Produce. We still do trim Iceberg lettuce but only one person does it and that is usually me and it is done as we fill. I usually am assigned to the whole cabinet! Yes you read that right the whole cabinet (except the freshcuts which are in a separate cab).

      We still do have plastic wrap hot wire cutter. One person is usually assigned but if we need to hurry, one of us help out to cut and another wrap and usually only one person cleans up the prep floor.

  • What is the policy on selling discounted green potatoes. My local WW sells some that really pose a public health risk not worth the sale.

    • +3

      Freshness in produce is really important, my team would often walk the department at-least 3 to 4 times a day throwing any crap or damaged stock into a trolley and taking it away. Don't worry most of this stuff doesn't go to waste they go into farmer bins in which local farmers collect everyday for feeding livestock, anything that isn't right for the farmers is often placed in the staff room such as overripe bananas and avocados for staff to enjoy on their breaks!

      No Way would I ever sell green potatoes intentionally. If you find any stock that isn't sellable just hand it to a staff member, or let them know that there is some crap stock in there

      • Good to hear, we used to throw aged F&V in the same "dumpmaster" as broken glass and wooden boxes (bananas)

        It all went to landfill.

        • +3

          When I started at Woolworths this was exactly what happened and it was disgusting. I still remember when I first started there was a recall on pre-packed apples due to a typo on the packaging and I was asked to throw out hundreds of perfectly good apples straight into the landfill bin. I felt disgusting.
          Its great to see that the company doesn't do that sort of stuff anymore

          • @samboread: If any pre packs are damaged, but the stock themselves are fine, I am usually asked to put them with the loose stuff like torn prepacked Granny smith apples? Put the apples with the loose apples and throw the package away (not before adjusting it on the RF gun).
            Or if the stock is okayish for kids to eat, put them in the kiddie baskets. We do this for mandarins almost always the rest (rotten or bruised), goes into the farmer bins.

  • How "fresh" really is the seafood? And is it all from Thailand? I've always been scared to try it.

    • +7

      If its Fresh (Not Frozen Fish) it is local. Ours was through a supplier "Superfin" based in QLD, we would ring them each week and ask what they had on special and make an order
      The ticket will clearly say fresh or frozen and state where it comes from.
      Most of the frozen fish is imported and the price tag will state what country it comes from.
      Prawns can come from either Aus or imported and will also say this on price tag. We used stock Australian Frozen green and cooked prawns.
      All stock has to cleared within 2 days of being put on display, so if You see seafood reduced there shouldn't be anything wrong with it just moving it on for fresher stock to replace it.
      You can always ask the staff when it was put into the case, as there is a "day dot" on the back of the ticket to track this sort of stuff

      • +1

        Thanks mate. Very helpful to know.

  • HOw would you do forecasting of stock? what is the best time for markdown food and veggi?

    • +1

      These days forecasting is mostly done automatically based on previous sales. and it done automatically through a computer system, Managers are able to adjust these forecasts up or down for things just as seasonal events, displays, and or local holidays/events.
      Produce can be a little different as some things might be allocated, lets say the buyer gets a shit load of strawberries cheap, even though you only order say 5 crates they may send you 20 crates. just the luck of the draw!

      • what is the best time for markdown food and veggi?

        • Each Store will do markdowns at different times based on trading hours and busy times. I pretty much had a rule that it had to be completed by 3pm. So no real rule of thumb. To this, staff and management tend to frown upon people who only want it reduced. So asking a team member "When are you going to mark it down" will often only mean they put it off until your gone.

  • How often did you have to clock off but keep working?

    • +2

      This is an interesting one, and one of the reasons for leaving the company.
      In a Salary role you got paid to work 40 hours with no paid overtime.
      BUT… you were expected to work overtime. Generally I'd work at-least 3 to 6 hours of unpaid overtime every single day.
      8 hour days would be more like 11 to 12 hour days

      • But your salary is in lieu of reasonable over time ;) same as Coles I assume, salary management was a standard 7-6 11 hour day

        • +6

          Yes that is what they tell you! But in reality working for 60k a yr, 40 hrs a week your looking at Approx. $29 an hr.
          lets now say you actually work 55hrs a week your actual hourly rate is $21. which is now lower than the 20yr old employee that really does no work and just spends most of their time chatting!

  • Where do you work now?

    • +3

      I now work in the IT industry as an IT Consultant, as this is where I'm tertiary qualified

  • How did you hire people?

    Was it team member's friends or HR picked some and you picked from there or someone brings in a resume, you like them, you hire them?

    • +1

      This has changed a lot over the years, it used to be via a resume drop, we would put advertisement flyers up and people would drop resumes at the front desk.
      Now you have to apply via the Woolworths Careers website. You fill in a questionnaire and submit your resume.
      When a store wants to hire they send HR in Sydney a form saying we want people and what days/hours/departments we want etc. then HR send people who applied interview times and send the store the same details. The store's still interview people and decide whether they are good or not but everything else is dealt with by HR.

      Generally speaking I have pushed peoples details through to HR saying we want this person etc but not commonly done this way

  • +1

    Firstly, Loving this AMA - thank you samboread!

    My next question for you is this - how different is pricing on a store by store basis? e.g. I've heard expensive suburbs have higher markups and vice versa?
    What is the best way for an ozbargainer to save money on their shop?

    • +1

      Thanks Gourmet foodie! Just passing time on a quiet Tuesday!!
      As far as I'm aware (don't quote me on it) the only pricing difference will be instore specials (clearances etc) and state pricing. There maybe differences in some products. Only pricing difference that I've ever seen is drinks between NSW and Qld because of the NSW return and earn.
      In terms of suburbs, there is 7 woolies within an hr drive from where I am in northern NSW and they have all the same pricing

      • In Sydney, Metro stores in the CBD are typically 10% more expensive.

        Source: observation and mgt comment in the news.

      • Thanks mate, this is good to know.

  • oooh someone opened a can of worms …I can't wait to read more comments about " The Fre$h Food People "

  • 1) How fresh are the apples really? Is it all cold storage even in picking season? Or is some stock actually fresh from the market?

    2) WHat happens to all the fruit and veg and other perishables like bread that doesnt sell by BB date?

    • +1

      1) during Apple season the apples are as fresh as possible, once they are processed and moved to the warehouse the are moved to stored asap. It's great! Obvs outside of Apple season a lot is cold storage. But really very rarely can you tell the difference!! I'd dare some people to guess, I bet they would be wrong or have no idea at all.

      2) 2 options, plain bread will go to the farmers as well. But the rest will go to food rescue, in city's woolies works with ozharvest to collect these items every few days! For us we give to charities that help feed homeless and people who can't afford groceries. This includes just about every item possible from bread to cakes to meat, perishables and frozen items. It's actually pretty good!!

  • What do you think of the current restructuring that is going on.

    https://www.afr.com/business/retail/woolworths-referred-to-f...

    Woolworths is creating two new departments, fresh service and fresh convenience. Fresh service will manage customer service at delicatessen, butchery and seafood counters, and fresh convenience will manage dairy, eggs, pre-pack meat, branded bread and meal solutions.
    Woolworths said last week the changes, the first to its store operating model since 2011, were not aimed at cutting jobs or costs but delivering a better customer experience.
    However, staff at more than 1000 supermarkets have been told their roles have been made redundant and they must reapply for new roles, seek redeployment elsewhere in the group or take redundancy, which was not the retailer's preference.

    • +1

      I was surprised no one had mentioned this yet.
      If I had stayed at Woolworths my job was made redundant, the guy who took my job was lucky enough to get another position at a different store. But I think it was bound to happen and I'm lucky as hell I got out when I did. I still have a lot of friends that work there and it's been quite a hectic change. I personally know if someone whom has worked for woolies for over 40 years and did not get offered one of the new management positions, literally forced out to retire.
      I honestly could go on for hours about how working there for 10 years I learnt that there is no loyalty to staff and you are just a number and a cost to them

  • How do you know you did a good job? What were your KPIs?

    • KPIs included

      Sales
      Wage budget
      Stockloss
      VOC (Voice of the customer) which are those email surveys you get.
      And overall store performance

      There are 6 monthly appraisals for management which put you into performance categories.

  • Are there codes over the PA for security events?

    • +3

      Potentially if you are in a shopping centre and have security.
      In our store which was free standing without any security we would just call security to isle X when ever we saw someone obviously stealing just to scare them

    • +2

      Back in the good old days, when you were 'allowed'to rough them up a bit at Coles there were plenty of security call codes, they disappeared(probably with Coles and Woolies) when team member safety became the priority.

      If you're not allowed to approach the thief/agressor then there's no reason to have the calls.

      • +2

        Service 100 usually meant a shoplifter in my old store.
        Everyone would rush down to the registers to chase him/her down.

        • +2

          Yep definitely remember the old service 100. We also used to have a call for secret shopper as well back in the day

  • Deli related - from an earlier answer you said they have day dots or something, and things shouldn't be sold that's on display for more than 2 days.

    What happens if you only have a small amount left of something that's only a day old (and it would look weird not to put a lot more of it out).
    Do old and new get mixed together?

    • +1

      So these dots are only used for seafood.
      In your case we would move whatever is left of older stock at the back seperated by a plastic bag so staff can recognise the difference and the day dot is changed

  • Not related to your department but what dept/division does the Click-N-Collect function fall under?

    My local Woolies puts my entire collect order in some kind of cold storage post picking - bread, flour, cans, potatoes, onions and everything else come out cold. This is despite the items being marked as "Ambient Temp" (I know this because, when they still used them, the plastic bags had a tag that said Ambient). I have pointed this out a couple of times but there has been no change. It's silly and so I now order from another Woolies store a bit further away.

    • +1

      Click and collect falls under service department so front end (checkouts) or the online department for stores with that department

  • If I buy fresh chicken from the deli, what should I expect the minimum and maximum use by period to be?

    • 2 days. If it goes crap within two days take it back and they will replace it and refund you! But please use common sense, inspect your poultry products visually and smell it!

      Btw most of the time it will last way longer than two days, and you can always ask what the use by is as there is use by on the carton the poultry comes in

      • Great, that's good to know,thanks!

  • What is the markup on the top selling fruit and veg?

    Do you get to see the cost prices or does head office hide from you?

    • They definitely have access to view GP percebtages