On a stormy day in late June, I drove to Wooster, Ohio for the 2020 Ohio Grocers Bagger Bowl. This was my first time judging a bagger’s contest and I wanted to do a good job. Would I measure up? Would I be ready for the action? Is all this rain making my hair frizzy? No, seriously I worried about everything since the contest would be filmed by ESPN.
To channel my excitement, I thought about all the prep I did before heading to Wooster. Anyone who knows me, knows I research everything. So, I watched hours of YouTube videos. Some of the videos were vintage 90’s store tutorials on how to build a perfect bag. Despite the stonewashed jeans and rad makeup, the advice stood the test of time. Build strong walls with boxed items and cans on the bottom, then fill in with smaller items and top with breakables like eggs or smashables (my word) like chips.
I even found student videos demonstrating proper bagging techniques which were oddly compelling. The earnest advice and efficient movements mesmerized me as I jotted notes. These baggers really knew their stuff. My mind wandered a bit to muse about the students’ grade on the video project, but I snapped back to work.
Now that I understood the why and how of a properly packed grocery bag, I needed to understand how an actual competition worked. Fortunately, archived footage of the national bagger’s competition exists. Technique. Timing. Style. It all comes together in Vegas every year, but first states hold competitions to see who will represent them. For Ohio, that competition loomed in rainy Wooster.
Despite the rain and COVID-19 restrictions, Kristin Mullins and her team at Ohio Grocers Association created an incredible event. Host Buehler’s set up a huge tent in their parking lot, arranged the stations, carts, food items and bags. And ESPN brought cameras, sound equipment and a commanding director right out of central casting. I reviewed my judging form and made a mental note not to annoy the director.
Baggers from around Ohio who successfully advanced in local contests brought their A games. I marveled at their enthusiasm. These contestants, most of them high school and college age, shared funny anecdotes and gave their employers shout-outs. They kept working all through a pandemic and still managed to make their customers feel appreciated.
This I realized is the special sauce that makes the contestants and the grocery stores that serve all of us incredible community partners. Technique, style, and speed made all the difference in Wooster for one lucky winner (spoiler alert: Dorothy Lane’s Fengning Liu with a blazing time and perfectly packed bags). But showing up everyday with a smile, kind word and yes, packing your Oreos so they don’t get smashed, makes all grocery store employees winners.