"It kind of made me realize with plastic bags, you just put groceries in there," says 18-year old Andrew Borracchini, scion of the Borracchini Bakery family. "When we had plastic bags, I'd throw it in and call it a day."
Every customer transaction now represents an opportunity to practice efficiently and properly filling paper and reusable bags, which are the types of bags used in competition. Borracchini will travel to Las Vegas this February for his second appearance at the Best Bagger contest, sponsored by the National Grocers Association. Last year, he was eliminated in a preliminary heat.
"The lady who won (the top prize) was in my heat," Borracchini recalls. "They said if she wasn't, I could have made the top five."
Although Borracchini's job at the Met Market in West Seattle doubles as a training regime, he also meets with his manager three times a week for hour-long preparation sessions. If Borracchini's shifts count as batting practice, the Thursday, Saturday and Sunday meetings could be classified as sabermetric research.
"We basically try to get data from last year's competition, see what groceries they order," he says. "The big boxes and the big cans, that can really throw you off."
Borracchini is punctilious about clocking out for practice sessions, since he doesn't feel he's yet accomplished anything worthy of a paycheck.
"I do it for my family and the company," he says. "Especially the company."
When Met Market held its first qualifier in 2007, Borracchini's older sister participated. "I remember how she came home disappointed that she didn't win," Borracchini says. His older brother, who this year quit his job at Met Market, also failed to achieve wining bagging speeds.
"My sister told me I had to win it for the family," Borracchini says.
Met Market publicized Borracchini's first trip to the finals, so he's frequently recognized by customers as the store's fastest bagger, although he says lines aren't any longer at his check-out stand.
"We have great courtesy clerks, so I can't really say I'm the best," Borracchini says, using the in-store term for bagger. "You guys shouldn't cherish me, but cherish the company."