What goes into bagging items in the grocery store?
It’s not a thought held by the hundreds who check out their groceries in local supermarkets every hour of every day. For Josephine Gruposso of Port Jefferson Station, it is a matter of deftness, intelligence and speed.
“I think it’s fun — some people might think it’s silly,” Gruposso said. “But when you work in a supermarket, with silly little things like this, I feel like bagging makes my time go quicker. It’s an amazing way to interact with your customers, an amazing way to interact with your employees.”
Just this last weekend Gruposso, 36, traveled upstate to participate in the 2019 New York State Best Bagger Finals at the Stop & Shop in Poughkeepsie. She, along with her Poughkeepsie-based teammate Joanne Chapman, huddled over shopping bags Sept. 21 to see who could stack and fill the fastest and neatest.
First, New York grocery stores held competitions in “heats” with multiple baggers competing against each other at a time. Each store sends two employees, and the Port Jeff Station resident was chosen for Stop & Shop.
Gruposso has been working with the supermarket chain since 2008 and has only recently started training as a customer service manager. She said she started to become interested in bagging skills when she worked the register many years ago in a store in Rhode Island. She first heard of the competition there, and though she only got to the second round in that state’s competition, she found the experience fun.
“I made it a game — and when we got really busy, I said: Okay I’ll put my timer here and we’re going to see how fast we can bag this.”
Gruposso said she has developed a bagging method that generally allows her to bag $20 worth of merchandise in under a minute, and a $100 order in one to two minutes. First, she separates the products, then places boxes around the sides of the bag to straighten and provide structure, then lays cans and bottles in the middle, which gives the packed bag balance and ensures the sides don’t tear.
“I made it a game with my cashiers, so at the same time I was practicing,” she said. “I would see how fast each customer would take me.”
She competed among 16 other contestants from stores around New York, including Stop & Shop, D’Agostino Supermarket, Gristedes, Hanaford, Price Chopper, PSK Supermarket, ShopRite and Tops Market. Those who win have the chance to travel to San Diego for the National Best Bagger Champion at the National Grocers Association annual convention.
Yes, there is a national competition, and there is a cash prize of $10,000.
The competition has gone on since 1983, when the American Paper Institute sponsored the first competition. Moving on since then, and with plastic bag laws across the state, the competition has switched to reusable bags.
The competition went well, she said, and while she didn’t win, she said she had fun watching others use different rapid bagging techniques.
“There is always next year,” added Gruposso.