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 (i.e. the process of transforming raw ingredients into food for human consumption) and getting it to customers to buy.
Explore the sector
Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with an annual turnover of £104 billion, according to the Food and Drink Federation’s annual report. It employs over 450,000 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.
This is a rapidly changing industry, and the following topics 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
Employers and roles
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, e.g. ASDA, Sainsbury's
- discounters, e.g. 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:
DEFRA run the ‘Food is GREAT’ campaign to promote “the Great British Food Unit’s trade activities in key markets and enhance the reputation for our food and drink around the world” with an objective to have more British food businesses exporting by 2020.
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 a ‘landscape map’ showing funders, innovation centres, networks and research & training programmes.
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.
Sainsbury's have produced a useful video, that explains the different stages involved in new product development – in this case a cheesecake.
Sainsbury's 'From cow to customer' video
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?
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, e.g. 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, research consultancies etc., are more likely to recruit as demand arises. Small and medium enterprises account for over 96% of business’ 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
Your Food Job - a European job board for the food and beverage industry
Food Careers - agency covering global and the UK food manufacturing sector