Cashiers put state grocery title in the bag
October 26, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah man competes in bag-off
The champions came from checkout lanes at mega-chains and from behind cash registers at mom-and-pop stores in every corner of the Evergreen State.
Dressed in uniforms of aprons and plastic nametags, the contenders stood poised for the signal to start the competition.
Ready. Set. Bag.
Forget, for a moment, the self-scan checkout lane. The annual Best Bagger Contest celebrates the skill — nay, the art — of packing groceries into paper, plastic or canvas.
The contenders included Nathan Frerker, 22, a cashier at the Issaquah Trader Joe’s. Before the Oct. 21 competition inside a SeaTac hotel ballroom, the Issaquah resident and Skyline High School alumnus packed a couple of bags as practice.
“It’s really key to keep the bags square,” Frerker said.
The trick to success is not just the proper arrangement of bread, eggs and milk inside a bag. The proper distribution of weight among multiple bags is also critical. So, too, is speed.
Frerker attributed good hand-eye coordination — sharpened on the baseball diamond — as another essential.
“At Trader Joe’s, we say the register is the finale,” Frerker said.
Judges also added and subtracted points for appearance and attitude. The best bagger is expected to smile and chat up customers.
The contest — sponsored by the Washington Food Industry Association — placed competitors at mock checkout lanes on a ballroom stage.
“In a grocery store, a superior front-end experience is the last — and perhaps the most critical — opportunity for sending the customer off with a good feeling about their shopping experience,” association President and CEO Jane Gee said. “It is one important key to bringing that customer back.”
In the opening round, Frerker loaded 19 items into paper bags in rapid succession as a cheesy soundtrack blared. Then, the Issaquah entrant and the nine other contestants loaded the same groceries into reusable bags.
Though Frerker blazed through both rounds, the judges selected three other contestants to compete for the top prize: a Publishers Clearing House-style check for $1,500, a paper bag-shaped trophy and a chance to compete in the national bag-off in Las Vegas.
Judges named Jessica Lewis, from Yoke’s Fresh Market in Spokane, as the best bagger. Frerker and the other runners-up pocketed 100 bucks and a certificate.
Lewis, 19, heads to the national competition in February to compete for the title and $10,000. The champion had not traveled on a plane before the day of the SeaTac bag-off, and a fog-related delay added to the pre-competition jitters. But she competed in the bag-off at a breakneck pace.
“I bag the same way at the store,” she said. “Customers comment on it all the time.”
In the bag
Entrants in the state Best Bagger Contest had to pack 19 items into paper and reusable bags in only a matter of seconds. The lineup included a box of cereal, chips, crackers, canned goods, a bottle of soda, a loaf of bread and easy-to-miss items, like a packet of seasoning mix and a packet of gum.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.