A gorcery store rant

a short while ago I removed the cap from a gallon of milk to pour some to steam for a late. I noticed an old smell and took a closer look. The milk had turned sour. I was sad because there was more than a couple of quarts of milk in the container. It hadn’t been long since I had purchased the milk so I took a look at the stamped date label. Sure enough the milk was well beyond its “sell by” date. The milk could have been used for baking and might even have made acceptable yogurt, but given the busyness of my day I sighted and poured out the milk. My wife was doing the shopping that day and she came home with a gallon of milk with a fairly close “sell by” date. She said it was the most distant “sell by” date available in the store. She noted that every gallon of milk in the front row of the store’s dairy case was past its “sell by” date.

We consume a fair amount of milk, though less than was the case when we had children at home. It generally pays us to purchase milk by the gallon because we don’t like to go to the grocery store very often and the price of milk is considerably lower when purchased by the gallon instead of by the half gallon.

The two incidents got me to looking at the sell by dates on the milk in the store. It is not something that I have ever paid attention to. Milk doesn’t sit around our house very long, but there have been occasions in the past where we have kept milk for more than a week without any problems. Sour milk doesn’t happen very often at our house.

We do our primary shopping at three different grocery stores representing two different distribution chains. We have noticed milk within one or two days of their “sell by” dates as well as milk beyond its “sell by” date in the diary cases of all three stores. I don’t know for sure if this is a recent phenomena, but it seems strange that we have been buying milk for decades without before encountering this problem.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there had been some obvious disruption in the supply chain such as a major storm or bad roads. The fall has been mild in South Dakota so far, so that isn’t the explanation.

I suspect that the real problem lies within the stores themselves. Employees are not paying attention to the “sell by” dates and are not rotating the stock properly. On once occasion I checked the dates on the milk in a store and found that all of the dates were later than the milk I had bought in that same store two days earlier. That would indicate that the stock was not being properly rotated in the store’s cooler.

If the issue was just milk, we could become more vigilant. We have already adopted a new discipline of checking the dates before making a purchase. We are not ashamed of rummaging through the store’s cooler to find a more suitable date. But the issue is not limited to dairy products.

It seems to me that a lack of well trained employees is an increasing phenomena in a lot of retail stores. Not only are stores struggling to fill positions and retain employees because of low wages, they now are not investing in proper training of the employees that they do have. I realize that high turnover makes employee training more difficult and costly for businesses, but there are things that businesses can do to protect their training investments and retain employees. The bottom line is that a 40 hour per week job stocking groceries doesn’t produce enough income to make rent and groceries for an individual let alone a family. I can’t blame employees for seeking new jobs as soon as he possibility presents itself. The result is that it seems like stores are constantly breaking in new employees.

Ask a clerk in a grocery store where the peanut butter is located, or which aisle holds tea and you are likely to encounter someone who does not know the location of an item outside of the department where they are working. A produce clerk may not have any awareness of the stock in the deli and a bakery clerk won’t know anything about what the store does or does not stock. It is frustrating to be a customer.

I stoped by a grocery store on Monday to pick up a few items. It was a holiday. Many people had the day off because of Veteran’s Day observances. The store had a lot of customers. The aisles were crowded with stacks of boxes of items that had not yet ben put onto the shelves. When you add to that the many impulse bins that regularly block passage down the store’s aisles and the somewhat higher than normal number of customers, it was a challenge just to get to the parts of the store where the items I needed were located. At the checkout lines, chaos reigned. Lines were extending into the aisles. The store clearly did not have enough checkers to handle the volume of customers. It was confusing to know where to stand to wait without being in someone else’s way. I wasn’t in a particular hurry, so I tried to be patient and to smile at other customers, many of whom seemed more harried and upset than I. A store employee was trying to clear an aisle and get customers to move a line from one place to another. The employee clearly lacked the skill required and was speaking harshly to customers. I saw two who gave up in frustration and simply left their carts and walked out of the store without making purchases. The abandoned carts were in the way of other customers and may have contained perishable items that belong in freezers of refrigerators.

I wondered if the store was willing to accept the losses simply because they cost the store less than paying for properly trained employees.

Then again, I remembered that the store didn’t seem to be bothered by selling dairy products after their “sell by” dates. They probably just got someone to empty the carts back on the the shelves and waited for another customer to come along.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!