America loves competition. And that is perhaps never as intense than at the Best Bagger Championship.
This year, 172 million Americans tuned into the Super Bowl. Dog lovers foam at the mouth for the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. And the Scripps National Spelling Bee is not to be missed. But I think we can all agree the competition we all wait all year to watch is the National Grocers Association Best Bagger Championship. Right? Right, guys?
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Seventeen-year-old Talia Randle, a courtesy clerk at Seattle’s Magnolia Metropolitan Market and student at University Prep, is representing Washington state at the competition, happening Monday night in Las Vegas.
“I started working here in the summer and within the first couple weeks people were like, ‘Wow, this comes naturally to you!’ Then I heard we were having a store competition so I practiced for that,” Randle said. “Once I won that I started working with Glen.”
Glen is her coach. Yes, she has a grocery bagging coach. Store director Glen Hasstedt has been coaching talented baggers for more than a decade.
“I’m competitive by nature,” Hasstedt told me, from the bowels of the Magnolia Market where he and Randle were training. “I was a ballet dancer and a martial artist and a gymnast, I like competing. So when we first started getting into this, twelve years ago, I liked the competition of this. I liked winning. So out of eleven years, I think six or seven of those years, my team has taken first place in the company. I’ve produced baggers who have taken four first place and one second place in state and two national titles.”
Seattle’s best bagger
Here’s how it works: Met Market and grocery stores around the country do an in-store competition. The winner then goes on to state and that winner moves on to nationals. The winner takes home $10,000.
Hasstedt and Randle take this competition seriously. There was no joking around in the basement of Met Market when I observed their training session. Hasstedt coached, his stopwatch running, while Randle quickly, but pointedly, arranging boxes of cereal, cans of soup, loaves of bread and bags of chips into three bags.
“It’s judged on four different categories,” says Hasstedt. “One, of course, is speed and then over the years, they added in bag building technique. Cans on the bottom, heavy things on the bottom. Are you lining the bags with the boxes? Then they go to weight distribution. And then congeniality is are they pleasant, are they interactive, do they interview well?”
Randle says she usually doesn’t remember her dreams.
“I have, definitely before state, had a couple dreams about the bagging competition, but they’re pretty good dreams. In some of them, I’d drop something, it would be a horror story, but then I’d pick it up and still win.”
Last year’s first-place winner was from Seattle. Candice Lastimado, from the West Seattle Metropolitan Market, beat out 24 other competitors for the title of the National Grocers Association Best Bagger Champion. One of Hasstedt’s proteges won nationals in 2013.