Photo: Diego Mendoza-Moyers
BETHLEHEM — Saturday morning shoppers entering the ShopRite in Slingerlands were met with something different from your everyday grocery store trip.
A crowd enthusiastically cheered as employees from chains around the state took part in New York’s “Best Bagger” competition put on by the National Grocers Association.
Eleven people from six grocery chains competed for a chance to advance to the national bagging championship in San Diego – and have a chance at the $10,000 grand prize.
“You talk about excitement and satisfaction in the workplace, this is a way for our associates to create excitement, compete against each other, and the fact they win a trip to San Diego this year, that’s a big deal for someone,” Shannon DeFreese, a ShopRite area human resources specialist, said.
This year’s winner for the New York competition was Erin Pierce from the Canton Price Chopper. Pierce, who said this was her third time in the statewide competition, will compete in San Diego in February.
“I’ve never made it past Kansas.” Pierce said. “It feels awesome, absolutely. I practiced a little bit, but I don’t like to over-practice because then you overthink it.”
Other competitors included John Dohring and Keisha Ragland, representing ShopRite. Dohring finished in second place, followed by Ernestine Bynum, of D’Agostino’s Supermarkets.
Tops, Hannaford and Stop and Shop grocery stores were also represented in the contest.
The National Grocers Association’s bagging competition has been going on since 1987, when the first contest was held in Dallas, Texas.
Each competitor participated in two rounds, with the highest score of the two counting for the final grade.
Judges gave points based on time, but also the weight of each grocery bag, the organization of groceries, and one other category: demeanor and appearance.
“You can see in their heads, the associates are balancing the competitiveness between being that friendly associate that you would expect from the checkout,” said Michael Durant, a competition judge and the president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State. “You can see that there’s some intensity.”
Individual stores held their own bagging competitions, and those winners went on to compete for the state contest.
Competitors lined up at three cash registers as friends and family held signs and rooted the contestants on.
“It’s a bagging competition on steroids,” said Carolyn Hueber, who also last year represented Tops and New York at the national contest. “It’s lights, camera, action, screaming, yelling. The whole nine yards.”