Ag business student has his career goals in the bag

October 14th, 2021

Ben Miller standing next to a National Grocers Association Championship banner
Ben Miller, sophomore in agricultural business, stands proudly next to his name on the banner that declared him a finalist at the National Grocers Association Best Bagger Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.

By Amber Friedrichsen

Diversifying one’s résumé can set them apart from others when applying for an internship or job. Students can do this by including leadership experiences, special skills or notable achievements. Ben Miller, sophomore in agricultural business, is focusing on the latter and adding “America’s Best Bagger” to the top of his list.

The Best Bagger Championship is a competition among grocery store employees across the U.S. It is hosted by the National Grocers Association, and has a history that dates back to 1987. This year, the event was held on Sept. 20 in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 10 contestants, including Miller, from 10 different states had their eyes on the $10,000 first-place prize.

Miller began working at HyVee in Waukee, Iowa, as a sophomore in high school. Since then, he has worked in many different departments, and his work ethic has not gone unnoticed by his supervisors. Miller was approached by a manager about representing HyVee at a corporate level bagging contest. He agreed and effortlessly secured the top spot, qualifying him for the state level competition, held at the 2021 Iowa State Fair in August.

At the fair, Miller once again bested his bagging opponents. Approximately one month later, he found himself on a plane flying west to represent Iowa at the 35th annual National Grocers Association Best Bagger Championship. The competition began with two preliminary rounds and ended with a battle between five finalists – Miller being one of them.

“My name was the last one called, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” Miller said of the preliminary round. “But my favorite part of the event was the final round. I was super zoned in.”

On stage, contestants stood behind check stands scattered with items from a typical shopping list, such as fresh produce, canned goods, bags of chips and various drinks. The goal was to bag the items as quickly as possible. Finishing in under 53 seconds earned competitors 10 points, and single-point reductions were made every three seconds to follow.

Miller clocked in at a mere 44 seconds, but speed was not the only factor to be considered. He also received points on bagging style, putting cans and boxes on the bottom and placing eggs and bread on top. Weight distribution of the groceries was also measured, and the difference between the heaviest bag and lightest bag were deducted from his score.

The last component of the competition was a brief on-stage interview. Contestants had to answer questions and demonstrate good customer service to the emcee, and they earned points for displaying friendliness and personality. Miller said working at a grocery store has helped him sharpen these skills, and he will apply them to his college experience and beyond.

“The way I talk to people is one thing that has improved,” Miller said. “When I first started working, I couldn’t talk to anyone, or I’d stumble on my words. I’ve learned to speak with greater confidence.”

Miller returned to Iowa with the championship title and plans to put his prize money toward his tuition. As an ag business major, he is interested in finance and accounting and looks forward to the opportunities available to him upon graduation. Miller can see himself working for a company in the agricultural industry, although there are many jobs in other environments he could pursue.

“What’s so wonderful about having a degree in ag business is that it can go beyond just corporate agriculture,” Miller said. “The main thing I love about my major is that it can be so diverse.”

No matter where Miller ends up, he’ll always carry what he learned in his bagging days with him. To become America’s Best Bagger, he had to be diligent, personable and forward-thinking. These attributes stood out to the judges of the contest, and they are sure to stand out to Miller’s future employers, too.