This ain't your typical sack race. Today, February 14, St. Louis native Scott Hall will represent Missouri at the 2011 National Grocers Association Best Bagger Championship. Having out-bagged all comers at the state level, Hall is set to compete against professional grocery baggers from 21 states in hopes of toting home a $10,000 cash prize and a guest spot on the Late Show with David Letterman. (The winner's home store -- a Price Cutter grocery in Springfield, in Hall's case -- receives a gold-plated cash register.) Sponsored by ConAgra Foods, the pack-it-up showdown takes place at the Mirage Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Gut Check spoke with the 23-year-old Parkway Central grad, who studies in the MBA program at Missouri State University -- when breaks in his training allow.
How long have you worked in the grocery business? I started at the Four Seasons Dierbergs in Chesterfield in high school and then started working at Price Cutter in Springfield for a college part-time job in 2008.
How did you discover your grocery-bagging talent? When they do these contests in the store, the managers try to get everyone to do it, so I was just doing it for the store. When I won the store competition, people said I should do the company-wide competition. Then I won for the company, and I was pretty shocked. I thought, "I'm actually pretty good at this! I should probably start practicing for the state competition."
Last year [when Hall came in third place] I was really nervous. It was really intimidating, because there was one guy who kept winning. He didn't compete this year, so that was another reason for me going for it. [Laughs]
Do you have a bagging mentor? I have two really good friends who have been helping me. One friend I call my coach, and the other I call my agent. They come in all the time when I'm working and give me pointers. They came to the competitions and cheered. They're both cashiers. I've been working [at the grocery store] so long, I've made some good friends.
How would you describe your bagging technique? [The competition] switched to reusable bags. One big thing is to fold down the top so the handles don't get in the way. And two hands -- using both hands makes it a lot easier.
A couple of the criteria are "style" and "attitude." How do you score points in those categories? Style -- you gotta look good. I got my apron with my name on it, and my shirt's going to be ironed -- hopefully. Dressing up like a good little bagger should. They do an interview with you onstage, so they also judge you on your answers. I try to be funny, but I don't think I am. They judge you on everything. They weigh your bags, and every pound your bag is off, they take off points.
How do you prepare for a competition? Do you have pump-up music? One of my tricks is to drink some caffeine. I've been trying to get away from it, but I do love Mountain Dew. I'm gonna down something real quick before I go up there. I bring my iPod usually. Other than that, I've been practicing every single day, coming in on days off and bagging.
What's the most difficult item to bag? Giant 2.5-dozen boxes of eggs. Some people come in and buy two of these. The first time I ever bagged one, I didn't realize the carton was open on the sides, and all the eggs fell out.
Also -- I'm giving you the inside scoop -- plastic is definitely a lot easier than paper. Whenever people come up and ask for paper, we kinda sigh to ourselves.
Is there trash talking at these competitions? I'm going to kind of try to lie a little bit and tell people I've been there before and lost on purpose. Once you win for Missouri, you can't compete again for the state. But some states don't do that, so there are people that keep competing every year. I'm going to pretend I'm one of those people.
What'll you do if you win? Most of it would go to student loans. This is going to sound stupid, but I also really want to go on spring break. And you can't put a price tag on Letterman.
How have you dealt with the fame? [Laughs] Springfield's been blowing up, I'm not gonna lie. I've been trying really hard not to let it go to my head. I was up for five hours last night, practicing. People were coming in saying they saw me on the news. Everyone's so supportive and wants me to win. Some people said they'd strangle me if I didn't.
What's that noise in the background? Sorry, I'm at the tailor's. I've lost 45 pounds since August, so I have to get my clothes ready. I keep telling people I have to look good for this.