Nine Kroger associates from across Georgia convened at the grocery chain’s Glenwood Avenue store in Atlanta on Wednesday morning with one mission: become the state’s best bagger.
Kroger’s 22nd annual Georgia Bag-Off featured the nine speediest, most accurate baggers in the Peach State. All 3,500 baggers employed at Georgia stores were judged on their speed, technique and weight distribution, and nine made it to the final competition in Atlanta.
The baggers had to show their skills with both plastic and reusable bags, packing the same assortment of items in two rounds of competition. They could not crush the loaf of bread, or allow the cans of tomato paste to tear through the plastic bag. Glass-on-glass contact would earn a deduction. As contestants packed their sacks, event host Uptown Johnny Brown chanted, “Heavy on the bottom! Light on the top!”
Each bagger brought with them a boisterous posse of coworkers, family and friends. The supporters wore matching T-shirts, thrust signs in the air and cheered as their chosen contestant bagged. The group cheering on Collin Motes, a 16-year-old from Douglasville, had at least 10 three-foot-tall cutouts of Motes’ head, which they waved as he raced to victory in his three-person heat.
After two hours of competition, the final scores were calculated. Times were converted into numerical values that could be added to scores for categories including technique and appearance. Shortly before noon, the scores were in. A new Georgia Bag-Off champion was about to be named.
The top bagger was Devin Ferrell, a 20-year-old Georgia Southern University student from McDonough. Cara Moran, a 16-year-old homeschool student from Atlanta, was second, winning a $500 scholarship. Levante McClure, a 22-year-old Kennesaw State student from Lithonia, placed third, winning a $250 scholarship.
Ferrell placed third in last year’s competition, but was able to pull off a win this time thanks to “tutoring” from a former champion and more than 20 hours of practice runs, he said.
“The key to becoming a great bagger is to let it become a part of you,” Ferrell said. “Then, you don’t have to think about it. It becomes natural.”
Ferrell was “ecstatic” to move on to the next round of competition in Orlando, Florida. There, he will compete against other state champions from rival stores, including Publix, to become the all-store Georgia champion. If he does that, he’ll win another $2,500 in scholarship money and advance to the National Grocers Association Best Baggers Contest in San Diego. The national finals will be held in February 2019.