By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Have you ever bought a bunch of ripe bananas for your family and found that nobody's in the mood for bananas? Wasted. Well, imagine how hard it is for supermarket produce managers to consistently guess what and how much their consumers want without waste. A new University of Georgia computer game shows the way.
Ultimately, decisions made by produce managers determine the quality and the availability of fresh produce for your family at your grocery store.
"If they order too much for the demand, they have to clearance the produce. The store loses money," said Deepak Aggarwal, an agricultural engineer with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Or if they order too late for a particular holiday season, such as greens for New Year's Day, they miss the demand completely."
Retail produce managers need proper training to understand the links involved in the supply chain, he said.
Teaching through a computer game
To do this Aggarwal and his UGA colleagues developed a Windows-based computer game with funding from the USDA Marketing Service. It's not likely to be a hit with the Game-boy crowd, but produce managers who are new to the job should love it.
"We wanted to provide an entertaining approach to learning about fresh produce retailing," he said.
In the "peach" game, the player (produce manager) assumes the role of a retailer who is striving to minimize inventory without running out of an item. It also teaches the keys to inventory management, how to deal with delays in produce delivery and determining shelf life.
The peach game is based on a similar game developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Advice from a pro
Em-Orn Savage, produce manager of Kroger's in Griffin, Ga., has helped the UGA team by playing the game and giving the team feedback.
"I don't represent a typical player, though," she said. "I don't want to cut myself too short and I just try and play safely so I don't run out."
She sees the new peach computer game as a tool that would be useful to produce managers who are new in their jobs.
"The key is to keep a close eye on your inventory and you won't go wrong," Savage said.
The peach games teaches the same principles. It uses peaches as the primary product, but the concepts would work for any fruit or vegetable. Players either earn or lose money based on the decisions they make as fictitious produce managers.
"Consumer demand can be random and there are obstacles along the way," said Aggarwal.
He said these obstacles teach producer managers how to deal with unexpected events and how and when to discount produce.
Selling the idea to the industry
"The next step is to pitch the game at the corporate level to supermarket chains," said Stan Prussia, a CAES agricultural engineer who helped develop the game. "For the game to be useful, we need them to support the project and implement it in their staff training programs."
Prussia introduced the game at the Food Distribution Research Society meeting last year in Miami, Fl., and found a new market.
"Teachers from California, Ohio and Maryland showed interest in the game as a teaching tool for their business classes," he said. "And food science students here at UGA have played the game and say it helps them better understand the complexities of the food delivery system."
The peach game can be downloaded from UGA at www.griffin.uga.edu/ageng/programs/peachgame.exe. Stella software is also required to run the peach game and can be obtained at www.hps-inc.com.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)