Brandon Maruca, Produce Manager, San Francisco
Every month we’ll be spotlighting a different Woodlands employee to connect you with our team and learn more about what they do day in and day out to keep their departments running smoothly. We appreciate our hard-working employees and want you to get to know them!
Brandon Maruca has been keeping our San Francisco store’s Produce Department running smoothly since the store’s opening last summer, and customers appreciate the constantly changing, seasonal inventory that’s always on the shelves.
What is your background in the produce industry?
I used to live in Napa where the culture is extremely food-oriented. I had a lot of friends who had small farms and worked in the wine industry, so I’ve always been really drawn to plant life and agriculture. Knowing a good amount about plants in general, it was a natural progression for me to get into the food industry and produce. I found myself in and out of agriculture and food industry jobs, and as I accumulated more knowledge about produce, working in this industry was a natural progression for me. I moved to San Francisco five years ago, and it’s a very different lifestyle than Napa but I love it.
When this job opened up, I checked out Woodlands’ other stores and saw how friendly and happy the employees were acting. The stores had a great vibe, and it made me want to work here. I helped open this location last year and love the work.
Can you describe your job for us?
I come in each the morning and check the product to make sure everything is fresh and in stock. I start my day stocking and refreshing product, and from there I start ordering. I’ll see if I can bring in new, organic products that are in season and scrap old products that aren’t selling. I keep tabs on the season and ask my main buyer if he can get any items that I know are coming into season. I have a great relationship with my buyer—sometimes he’ll send me a box of something even if I don’t order it because it’s particularly good at that time. I don’t bring any product in if the quality isn’t good either—that’s obviously essential.
Right now, we use three to four different vendors. My main vendor provides all the big organic produce, while I have a smaller package vendor that will provide cut vegetables, and other specialty vendors that provide dried items like nuts and pistachios.
After I place my orders, I’ll check the floor to make sure everything is still fresh and in stock on the shelf and help customers how I can. Between keeping product in stock, placing orders, and helping customers, I’m always on the move. The work is diverse, which is good for me.
How do you deal with the seasonal, rotating nature of the department?
Compared to other departments, we shift our stock very often due to how fluid and changing it is. Other departments are more locked into what they’re doing, while produce is constantly rotating out, which is one element of this job that I love.
We’re often merchandising and shifting around the layout of the department, as the produce is constantly changing. Things are always being moved around to make room for and showcase new product. For example, I just moved our organic pistachios into a different place and they started selling like crazy. Placement and layout are very important in such a small department like this one.
How do you decide what new produce to bring into the store on any given week?
I keep tabs on what product is coming into season each week and try to bring in things according to what’s new and fresh. I really think it’s important for us to always have some items that are in season. There are a lot of items that people just don’t know the taste of, and I try to get shoppers to step outside their usual box by bringing in some different, unique items here and there to make it more interesting for them.
When a customer makes a request for a product, I’ll usually bring a small order of it in even if I know it’s not a fast mover. For example, customers have asked for radicchio, endive, chanterelle mushrooms, different types of radishes, and other items that we’ve stocked by request. Summer will bring the next major change for us when berries, stone fruit, and tomatoes come into season.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Woodlands?
Probably not having to stand still. I’m constantly problem solving—nothing is ever the same here, and I never get bored. I’m constantly moving things around and shifting the department to keep it at its best. I get to interact with my customers a lot as well, which I love. And the food is great, of course.
I also really appreciate how small Woodlands has kept itself. I saw the owner [Don Santa] the other day and had a great conversation with him about what’s going on with the department. Compared to my time working for the big box grocers, I don’t get the sense that I’m just a worker bee who’s not going to get any credit or acknowledgment for my work no matter what I do.
At Woodlands, the management checks in with us, asks us how things are going and what we need, and acknowledges when we make changes that have worked well. There’s much more of a feeling that I’m a human here, and I feel very connected to the company. Working for a small company is great in that regard, though it also means that you have to work a little harder sometimes, which I don’t mind at all.