The art of grocery bagging is often overlooked in the shopping experience. As a procession of produce and household products head down the conveyor belt, the skillful bagger calculates the most efficient and secure way to prepare items for transport.
“It’s kind of like one big game of Tetris,” said Franklin resident Bethany Berger, 22, a cashier at Shaw’s Supermarket in Colchester.
Berger recently placed second in a national bagging competition, cashing in a $5,000 check along the way.
Berger earned the title of Vermont Best Bagger last October at the annual Vermont Retail and Grocers Association statewide bagging championship.
Her prize? An all expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas, where 25 baggers from all over the country competed in five heats before the finalists faced off on February 29.
While Berger has honed her craft at Shaw’s for four years, she admits the Vegas experience was slightly more intense than her usual routine.
“There was just so many spotlights and people – all the energy that was there – it was one big adrenaline rush,” she said.
The first bagging contest was held in Dallas, Texas in 1987. According to the group’s website, the championship was created to “promote the grocery industry devotion to exceptional customer service through superior bagging.”
Contestants are judged on speed, distribution of weight between bags, bag building technique, along with style, attitude and appearance. Each receives an identical list of grocery orders consisting of up to 38 commonly purchased items.
Berger also soaked in some Vegas sights and sun during her five-day stay.
Back in Colchester on Friday for a regular shift, she ran through a handful of orders with notable swiftness. Her personality is not sacrificed for such efficiency, however, as she held a conversation with customers before sending them on their way.
“I love talking to people,” said Berger, citing this affinity as an inspiration for her pursuit of a career in social work.
Berger, a Milton High School graduate, is a senior at the University of Vermont, on track to graduate this May. She plans to go back for her master’s and look for a job in the field until then.
“Bethany is an exceptional employee,” said Linda Delpino, Shaw’s manager in Colchester. “She’s everything that you could want in someone: She comes to work everyday with a positive attitude, she engages with customers and she helps with other associates.”