Alejandro Quechol-Tapia

Miller and Sons employee Alejandro Quechol-Tapia has advanced to a national grocery bagging competition.

A Verona Area High School student will compete against champions from 15 other states at the National Grocers Association’s Best Bagger Championship next week Monday.

Alejandro Quechol-Tapia, 18, will compete for a $10,000 grand prize in San Diego, California on Feb. 24. Quechol-Tapia is a bagger at Miller and Sons Supermarket and has worked at the store for two and a half years.

Last October, he won the “Great Wisconsin Bag-Off” competition hosted by the Wisconsin Grocers Association in Wisconsin Dells. Competitors were judged on speed, proper item arrangement technique, style, attitude, personal appearance, number of bags used and uniform bag weight distribution.

Each contestant at the national competition will bag identical grocery orders consisting of 30-38 commonly purchased items.

Winning the state competition earned Quechol-Tapia $500 and an all-expenses-paid trip to compete in the national contest including round-trip airfare for two, a two-night hotel stay and $150 in meal expenses.

Originally, he planned to take the trip with his mom, but she cannot attend, so Miller and Sons general manager Eddie Roberson will be accompanying him to San Diego.

In addition to Roberson, several employees from Certco, Inc., who supply groceries to Miller and Sons, plan to attend to provide Quechol-Tapia a cheering section and will be holding a banner inscribed with “Go! Alejandro! Go!”

Kevin Steiner, Miller and Sons manager, said the store began sending baggers to the state competitions eight years ago. The store holds a backroom competition to qualify youth baggers at the store level.

Steiner said they send one bagger per year from each the Verona and Mount Horeb stores. The participant from Mount Horeb did not place at the state level this year.

Last year was Quechol-Tapia’s first year participating in the state-level contest, but he did not place. An individual may participate in the competition for up to three years.

“We encourage the kids to do it, they have fun with it, can make money and earn bragging rights,” Steiner said. “It’s also good on resumes for college.”

The competition began in 1987 and only one Wisconsin contestant has been crowned national champion to date, in 2012.

While Steiner sends his younger employees to compete, people of any age are eligible for the competition as long as bagging is 40% of their work duties and they have a non-managerial title or role in the store.

Even if he does not clinch first place, Quechol-Tapia could still come home with prize money. Second place would earn him $5,000 and finishing in third through fifth place would earn $1,000.

Steiner said the national champions sometimes used to be invited onto the The Late Show with David Letterman to show off their superior bagging skills.

Neal Patten can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.