Assistant Produce Manager
Alfonso Cano grew up in Huntington Beach in Orange County, the son of Mexican immigrants.
His father, who once owned a wrought iron business, was forced back into the supermarket industry in the produce department after his own company fell victim to a fire. The young Cano’s uncle was also in the retail produce business so it seemed like a logical place for Alfonso to start his career in the early 1990s.
“I started as Albertson’s as a produce clerk in 1991 and stayed there about 10 years,” he said.
At about that time, Albertson’s and Lucky Stores merged and Cano went to work for Vons, also at the store level, and stayed there for another four years. He eventually went back to Albertson’s for a short shift before landing with a one store market in Irvine as a buyer. However that gig didn’t last for very long.
“I was looking for bigger and better things. I was young and I was bilingual, but when I applied for bigger buying jobs they said I needed multi-unit buying experience,” he said.
A frustrated Cano took a position with Los Angeles distributor QSI, LLC before working his way back into the supermarket sector with his current employer, Northgate Markets. He seems to greatly enjoy his current slot with this growing 32-store Southern California chain.
“My title is assistant produce director which means I get involved on both the buying and the retail side,” he said. “Basically, I run the retail side.”
He said the position allows him to utilize some of his most marketable skills. Having worked in many retail produce departments for the better part of a dozen years, Cano knows the ins and outs of that job. “The cool thing about my experience is that it gives me a lot of credibility when I go to the stores and work with the produce managers. I’ve been in their shoes. I know what they are going through and I know how to do that job.”
Having had extensive experience at some of the larger, more conventional supermarkets also gives Cano a great appreciation for how things are done at Northgate. “At Northgate, nobody knows the customers better than our produce managers…and we always have enough people on the job. You go into a Northgate store at 4:00 in the afternoon and you are going to see at least two or three produce clerks working the produce racks. It’s not like other stores where you can’t find anybody in the afternoon or you have a box boy or box girl working the produce. Not at our place. We always have produce guys working the produce.”
Cano is also very happy to be using his home-grown knowledge of the Hispanic customer in his job. “When I left Albertson’s and Vons, I had two great attributes: I had retail experience and I am a Mexican.”
Of course, everyone knows how significant the Hispanic customer has become in the Southern California marketplace.
Though his career takes up a good portion of his day, Cano also spends quite a bit of time at home helping out around the house and helping with his two daughters: 15 year old Mia and 11 year old Isabella. “My wife Deanna was a teacher but right now she is getting her PhD in education and sociology at Cal State Fullerton. “
One student in the family is enough, but at one time, Alfonso also had dreams of continuing his education. “I have an AA and I was going to UC Irvine with thoughts of becoming a lawyer. But we had young kids and one of us had to quit. So I dropped out but my wife got her B.A. and then her teaching credential and then her masters.”
Any regrets? “Not at all,” said Cano. “I was raised to have confidence in myself and to know that if you are going to be successful you have to be the best in whatever you are doing. And so that’s what I do. I am in produce and I am trying to be the best produce guy I can be.”