The Care and Handling of Leaf Lettuces
Handling: Optimal storage temperature is 36 degrees. Make sure and store your leaf lettuces (romaine, red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuces) toward the back of your back room cooler as the front is more susceptible to temperature increases as you go in and out of the cooler throughout the day.
Care: All of the leaf lettuces need prepping! The best way to prep leaf lettuce is to first fill your prep sink with lukewarm water. Begin the actual prepping routine by snipping the butt end clean, peeling off any unusable leaves, wrapping the lettuce in a twist tie and then soaking the head in the sink of water. It's very important that the water be somewhat warm. When you place the snipped lettuce in warm water, the green actually relaxes and soaks the water in through the freshly snipped end. Once the lettuce is prepped and placed into a 36 degree cooler, the snipped end will close up in the cold temperatures and this locks the water inside the veins of the lettuce and gives it complete hydration, allowing for nice crisp greens! The combination of soaking in warm water followed by storage in cold temperatures creates a complete hydration solution.
It's very important to make sure that you twist tie the lettuce before it is soaked rather than after soaking. If you do it after the lettuce is soaked, there is a tendency for water to get trapped inside the head and rotting will likely occur at the core of the lettuce. As for using twist ties or plastic - aside from any environmental issue, the plastic will trap water inside the heads which leads to rotting.
Even when you re-prep the lettuce each day, it is important to go much further than just re-snipping the lettuce butts and placing them back on display. They need to be completely rehydrated (soaked in a sink full of water), snipped, stored in the back cooler for a few hours to crisp, and then they are ready for the rack again. For optimal care of your lettuce, this type of handling is a must!
Merchandising and Display: Lettuces are the key to any produce display. Your leaf lettuce display is the barometer for how fresh the produce is in your department. The key to merchandising lettuce is to have beautiful, well prepped heads on display. If we take care of the product as mentioned in the "care section", then this will always be true. But, aside from fresh, clean product, it's important that your lettuce display is striking in appearance, well positioned and has excellent color breaks. Typically this leaf display consistently involves, red leaf, green leaf and romaine lettuces. Go ahead and consider your bunch spinach as a fourth lettuce, so we are looking at three green and one red display. Begin by placing this display somewhere very early on in your wet rack set. Lettuce is quite popular and it's nice to present attractive, popular items early in the shopping experience. Make sure that your lettuce display is large enough so that no one could possibly walk by and not notice it! It's difficult to sell lettuce if it's not visible. Begin with green leaf first, and then using your best color break, go with the red leaf. For the third placement, let's use the romaine. But, rather than displaying it with the leaf end out, let's turn it around and display it with the butt end out. The nicely trimmed end gives a nice white/light green color that will stand out nicely next to your next item, which will be the dark green spinach. This leafy green will look beautiful next to the lighter color of the romaine ends. No matter what happens to the rest of your items on display, do not let your lettuce set shop down. If your lettuces are looking good, your entire department will shine. The converse of this is also true. Even if your department appears in good shape, but your lettuce display is looking rough, your department will not present itself as well as you may think.
Most important leaf lettuce tip: Above all else, it is imperative that your lettuce display remains hydrated. This cannot be overemphasized. The best method to ensure the best hydration is to be quite meticulous about it. Set a timer in the back room for every half hour. That's right, your lettuce display should be misted every half hour. Nothing will damage your product more than under hydration. Think colorful, think clean and think hydration. Good luck with your lettuce sales!