Food and Drink
The food and drink sector refers to a large and diverse range of businesses that supply the vast majority of food that people consume.
While agriculture refers to the production of food, this section focuses on careers in food and drink processing (that is, the process of transforming raw ingredients into food for human consumption) and getting it to customers to buy.
The food sector
In this podcast Dr. Emma Weston gives an overview of the sector and talks about the wide range of roles on offer and degree disciplines recruited from.
In this podcast Emma shares her knowledge of technical roles within the food sector and offers tips and advice of how to gain the skills to break into the industry.
Explore the sector
Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with an annual turnover of £112 billion, according to the Food and Drink Federation’s annual report. It employs around 468,000 people, and invests heavily in research and development, resulting in thousands of new products being introduced every year.
Core elements of this sector include food processing, wholesale and retail activities associated with the food and drink that is produced. There are numerous different roles available, ranging from food quality control analyst or supply chain manager. A framework, developed at the University of Nottingham, to outline key competencies for food graduate careers is available on the Institute for Food Science and Technology website (a revised version is due to be shared in late 2023).
This is a rapidly changing industry, and the following topics are being identified as key priorities for the future.
- innovative process and packaging
- enhancing consumer knowledge
- emphasis on organic produce and consumers being more health conscious
- increasing populations and impact of environmental issues
- leveraging computational science
- increased customer preference for ethically-sourced food
What employers and roles are there in this sector?
What employers work in the sector?
While many larger employers have structured graduate schemes, smaller businesses tend to offer on-the-job training.
Typical employers in this sub-sector include:
Food manufacturing and processing companies
Food Manufacture produce a comprehensive directory of the UK's leading food manufacturers and processers.
Supermarkets and other food retailers
Food retailers fall into a number of subcategories:
- supermarkets such as ASDA, Sainsbury's
- discounters, for example Aldi, Lidl
- other retailers including newsagents, off-licenses, butchers, bakeries and specialist niche retailers
Various Government departments and bodies focus on different areas of the food industry:
Research institutions and organisations
The food industry is fast-paced and faces a range of environmental and consumer-related issues that require innovative research solutions.
- viewing the relevant food vacancies on Jobs.ac.uk will give you an idea of the various research organisations and departments
Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a scheme where graduates work with an academic or research organisation to support a UK business on a specific project focused on innovation for 12 – 36 months. Innovate UK list vacancies and have further news and information on their website
Competencies for Food Graduate Careers (A framework, developed at the University of Nottingham, to outline key competencies for food graduate careers)
This includes managing pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars. While the hours are long and pay potentially not as high initially as other areas, there are opportunities to progress quite quickly, including working towards running your own business.
What roles are there in the sector?
Many roles for graduates are either in developing new food products or technical/quality assurance roles, while there are also roles in every part of the product development process such as distribution and warehousing, project management, branding, buying, business development and so on.
For example, a food technologist (sometimes called scientist) ensures foods are produced safely, legally and to the quality claimed, being potentially involved in developing both new recipes and manufacturing processes.
Jobs in the brewing industry may include training on the technical side of brewing and lead to industry-recognised qualifications in this area.
How do I find work experience?
To identify the most relevant experience for the particular role that interests you, view job descriptions and vacancy details, and talk to recruiters or individuals working within your chosen part of the industry. Networking can be a valuable way of getting a foot in the door.
Start by asking for advice and then build up to exploring opportunities for practical experience.
- if you are interested in the agricultural production side of the industry, gaining experience on a farm will be beneficial
- for those who are considering new product development, experience in market research or a food retail environment will raise your awareness of consumers and their needs
- if you want to work in a research environment, finding a vacation placement or internship in a relevant department will enhance your future applications
Get involved at Nottingham and enhance your job prospects.
Dietetics and Nutrition
Food (Sutton Bonington)
Student Food Cooperative
Institute of Food Science and Technology
Fit for Work Brewing Employability Programme
UoN Agricultural Careers Facebook group - closed group, request to join
Doctoral Training Partnerships
Nottingham Doctoral Training Centres
Please be aware that study abroad, compulsory year abroad, optional placements/internships and integrated year in industry opportunities may change at any time for a number of reasons, including curriculum developments, changes to arrangements with partner universities or placement/industry hosts, travel restrictions or other circumstances outside of the university's control. Every effort will be made to update this information as quickly as possible should a change occur.
How do I find a job?
Recent reports suggest that the food industry struggles to recruit and retain good science graduates. This is largely due to a lack of awareness of the numerous opportunities available.
If you think that this industry might be of interest to you, careful research and the development of some relevant experience, for example, working in a supermarket to gain better understanding of consumers, or on a farm so you can familiarise yourself with animals and see the day-to-day issues first-hand, will give you a clear advantage in the application process.
While there are specialist degrees available, many of the roles across the food industry will be relevant to those with a biology, chemistry, engineering or healthcare-related degree.
You may find that a masters qualification is an advantageous way to build your specialist knowledge, particularly if the role you wish to apply for is a technical one.
For research roles, a PhD may be required.
Specific skills will vary between different jobs, but a career in this industry is likely to require the following:
- commercial awareness, such as understanding and supplying customer demand in a profitable way
- the ability to formulate and communicate ideas
- negotiating, marketing skills to support new product/business development
- role-specific technical and analytical skills
- the ability to conduct work safely and ethically, and to explain it clearly
- strong communications skills – able to work collaboratively with colleagues and to build effective relationships with customers/clients
- enthusiasm and commitment
Large recruiters such as supermarkets or Government departments will have clearly defined and well-advertised graduate recruitment processes, often starting their recruitment in the autumn term, prior to graduation for roles starting the following summer.
Smaller organisations such as specialist retailers and research consultancies are more likely to recruit as demand arises. Small and medium enterprises account for over 96% of businesses in the food and drink sector.
Specialist recruitment agencies and job boards include:
Foodman Jobs - for roles in food manufacturing processes including graduates
Jobs.ac.uk - advertises research roles within the agri-food industry
Food Careers - agency covering global and the UK food manufacturing sector