It’s in the Bag



 “Anybody who’s ever worked in a grocery store or shopped in a grocery store knows that bagging is the heart and soul, the very lifeblood, of the American food industry.” ~ David Letterman

Knowing how to bag properly is one of the most important skills that anyone who works in a supermarket can possess. And, although the above quote by the illustrious talk show star might be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the supermarket bagger might well be the unsung hero of the industry.

Why is the bagger so important? For one thing, he or she is the often the last store associate that the customer sees at the supermarket, and is someone with whom the customer has significant interaction. Therefore, the bagger has the opportunity to make a strong positive impression on behalf of the supermarket. For another, the bagger’s expertise can ensure that the customer’s bags are easy to carry, the purchased items are protected and that she can unpack her groceries easily and efficiently once she returns home. Finally, the bagger can keep the line moving, which is essential to the bottom line of the store; after all, a quickly moving line means that more customers can be served. Thus, it is imperative to both the reputation of the bagger and the store that the bagger knows what he or she is doing.

The Wrong Way to Bag

Although new employees are usually provided with training sessions that include teaching the correct and efficient method to pack a grocery bag, too many customers continue to struggle with bags that have been packed too heavy or in a helter skelter fashion instead of being given reasonably weighted and neatly packed bags.

But, it seems that poor bagging has always been with us. Take a look at this video that shows how groceries were rung up and bagged in the 1940s. Even though a good system evolved with two people working together using those very cool shopping carts with the removable baskets (I wish we had those today!) and strong paper bags (that look a lot stronger than the ones that are made now), there does not appear to be a good technique to the bagging. Note that the bagger is not separating items by weight or by type, or trying to balance the bags so they can be carried easily. He’s just scooping up items and bagging them as they roll by the cashier.

Over time, of course, the techniques of bagging have been refined. Today, there should be no reason that a supermarket customer should leave a store without her bags packed quickly, neatly and properly.

Other negative behaviors on the part of the bagger that fall into this category are forgetting to smile at the customer, acting bored, avoiding eye contact, yawning, figiting, sneezing or coughing without covering one’s mouth or using a hand wipe afterward to clean one’s hands, and poor grooming and appearance.

The Right Way to Bag

So, what is this mysterious “right way” to bag? Following are a number of general guidelines:

  • Prepare several bags to be ready to pack as the items come off the conveyer belt. These can be store bags that you have opened and set up or the customer’s cloth reusable bags.
  • Bag items in the same category together.
  • Heavy items should be placed on the bottom, light items on the top.
  • Soft or fragile items, such as bread, chips and eggs should be placed together in a separate bag; eggs flat on the bottom, bread and chips on top.
  • Wet items, such as milk and juice cartons or jugs, should be bagged separately, and tightly enough so that they don’t fall over when the bag is lifted.
  • Cleaning items should be packed separately; this will protect food items in case of spillage or leakage .
  • Meats should be bagged separately to prevent any contamination of other foods. Raw meats should be packed separately from deli and cooked meats. Further, raw meats, such as beef, poultry, pork, lamb, for example, should all be bagged separately or wrapped separately in plastic if placed together in the same bag.
  • Notions, greeting cards, and personal products should be bagged together, unless there are only a few that can be dropped in a bag of dry items. Watch those greeting cards and protect them! Usually it’s best to place them in a separate bag. Why don’t supermarkets carry small paper bags for greeting cards?
  • Distribute the heaviest items among several bags to ensure that any one bag is not too heavy to carry.
  • Frozen and refrigerator items should be bagged separately – frozen together and refrigerated together; if it’s a small order, frozen and refrigerated may be bagged together. This helps the items to stay frozen or cold and allows the shopper to unpack these items first and quickly.
  • Pack no more than 5-6 cans in one bag.
  • Pack produce together; heavy items such as whole melons on the bottom, light items on the top. Place packages of grapes and cherries that can easily be squashed in separate bags.
  • Large items, such as cases of cans or bottles, gallon jugs and items that have their own handles may be placed in the shopping card with paid stickers.

And, here’s a tip all good baggers know: Stand cardboard box containers — such as those that contain cereal, cookies, crackers, pasta, etc. — upright in the bag and arrange them to form a wall around  the inside of the bag with an opening in the middle. Into this opening you can then pack cans, jars or small fragile items. This method gives your bags shape, especially the cloth reusable and plastic ones; makes the best use of space; and allows you to pack neatly and the customer to unpack easily.  You can use this technique when packing milk, juice, lemonade cartons and jugs; just ensure that everything is the same so you don’t get dry items wet. For example, you wouldn’t bag a box of cereal with a milk carton.  An alternate method is to pack cans on the bottom and then place the cardboard boxes of food on top, and then fill the opening with items.

More tips: Remember to smile at your customer. If your store offers the service, ask if she needs help transporting her bags to her car. Sometimes you will be the one to help a customer to her car, so find out what the policy is on employees accepting tips for such services, in case your customer offers you one. Finally, if your customer helps you to bag, don’t forget to thank her. Refrain from criticizing a customer’s bagging technique, though, and be kind to and tolerant of customers who offer you bagging tips! Remember that the customer is always right, and keep your sense of humor!

Here’s a video that offers a good overview to the role of the bagger:

Bagging Competition

Yes, there is a Best Bagger Championship! Trophies and cash prizes are awarded. The 2013 competition, sponsored by ConAgra Foods, Pringles, Bunzl Distribution and Pan-Oston Company was held Sunday, February 10th in Las Vegas. Check out this video about the competition, the contestants and the winners:

If you think your bagging skills qualify you to be a contender in an upcoming competition, speak to your supervisor about sponsoring your entry. Meanwhile, strive to be a champ in your supermarket job. If you follow the advice in this entry, it’s in the bag.

Until next time,


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