Four months after she packed her first official grocery bag, Talia Randle won the Washington State Best Baggers title, filling three bags in 47 seconds. Now she’s preparing to bag the national title.

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It’s not like Talia Randle grew up dreaming of being the fastest bagger in the West.

But when the 17-year-old University Prep student started her first job this summer as a courtesy clerk at Metropolitan Market in Magnolia, her natural skills emerged, according to store manager Glen Hasstedt.

Hasstedt, a former ballet dancer and coach who joined Met Market more than two decades ago, has trained four Washington State Best Baggers, including two who went on to win the national title.

He said every great bagger has a few key talents.

“They have to be fast, have great hand-eye coordination and be competitive and focused,” Hasstedt said.

Randle said bagging seemed natural to her and within a week of starting, co-workers were commenting on her speed.

“It just made sense to me, and I enjoy it,” Randle said. “Heavy things should be on the bottom — you don’t want to put a bag of rice on top of peaches — and everything should be standing up. It’s a little bit like Tetris or a puzzle.”

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To represent Met Market at the state level, competitors first have to win their in-store tournament. They then compete against the best baggers in each of the company’s five other local stores, according to Hasstedt.

In bagging contests, competitors are asked to place a certain number of items, usually between 25 and 40, into a certain number of paper and reusable bags.

Judging is based on four criteria: how fast the items are bagged, whether the bags have “structure” or are filled in such a way that items inside remain standing when placed on a table, how evenly the weight is distributed among the bags and the bagger’s congeniality.

In some contests, judges slice away one side of the paper bags to make sure items remain stacked and upright, Hasstedt said. They’re also looking to see if the bags are too full for a customer to pick up with one hand, he said.

The judges also try to trick baggers by, say, including a tiny pack of Lifesavers that is easy to overlook, Randle said.

Because Hasstedt has a reputation for grooming winners, Randle was a favorite to win the state bag-off in October, she said. But there, she was competing against several very experienced old hands and was doing so in front of a loud audience that almost unnerved her.

“There were people wearing cow bells and yelling,” she said. “It was loud.”

That’s where Hasstedt’s mantra of “just stay focused and don’t let things distract you” came into play, she said.

In October, four months after she packed her first official grocery bag, Randle had won the state title, filling three bags in 47 seconds. In addition to the title, she took home $2,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to the nationals, which will be held in February during the National Grocers’ Association convention at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

If Randle wins in February, she will be the fourth champion to come out of Washington state in the past five years.

In addition to the $10,000 grand prize, Hasstedt said, the winners enjoy a little prestige. For example, the 2013 national champ, Andrew Borracchini, another Hasstedt protégé, was invited to appear on the David Letterman show and compete against the show’s host.

 

Hasstedt said despite Randle’s natural gifts, she’ll have to start practicing a minimum of four times a week at a special work station, away from patrons, to prepare for the nationals.

“We don’t want her up at the front,” he said, “going like a maniac and scaring the customers.”