Careers in Food: 7 Benefits You Should Consider
Many people just like you are curious about careers in food. And it is no wonder. There are countless opportunities to pursue in the food sector. Just consider that, in 2016, it is projected that restaurant industry sales will exceed $780 billion. And by the end of the year, it is expected that 14.4 million people will be employed by the restaurant industry, which is a 17-percent increase from 10 years prior. That growth is not expected to slow down too much either. Experts predict that employment in the restaurant sector will grow by 12 percent from 2016 to 2026.1
Another place that you can look for food industry careers is within the food-manufacturing sector. That industry totaled $738.5 billion in 2012 and accounted for more than 12 percent of U.S. manufacturing shipments. It is an important sector for the country considering that almost 80 percent of the food and beverage products that U.S. consumers purchased in 2012 were manufactured within the country.2
As of January 2016, the food-manufacturing sector employed more than 1.5 million workers.3 These people are involved in manufacturing and processing soft drinks, beer, chocolate bars, chips, frozen entrees, boxed foods, baked items, pet food, and just about any other edible product you can think of.
The food industry offers a lot of different career options, whether you would like to focus more on food service or manufacturing. And many of these careers come with appealing perks. Below, we have detailed seven top benefits that this industry frequently offers along with some of the specific career options. Check them out and decide whether a career in food is the right path for you.
1. Diverse Career Opportunities That Offer Earning Potential & Job Growth
One of the best benefits of food industry careers is the diversity. The culinary sector offers a number of career options that range from traditional positions like chef to new and emerging jobs like food forager. And the manufacturing sector presents opportunities for individuals seeking food science careers and other positions related to food processing.
A lot of food-related careers come with the potential to earn a decent living and offer a good job outlook. We've detailed some of the options to give you an idea of what is available out there in regards to traditional and unique jobs, as well as careers in food science and manufacturing.
Salary and job growth data has been included where available. Unless otherwise noted, annual salary information is based on May 2015 data, and job growth estimates are for the 2014-to-2024 period.3, 4
Traditional Careers in Food
When most people think about beginning a career in food, they automatically come up with the more traditional occupations. These include positions like chef, baker, and restaurant manager. Below we have covered some of the common positions so that you can get an idea of the opportunities that these kinds of jobs can offer.
It is an exciting time to become a chef. Some of the hottest trends in food include a shift toward eating ingredients that are grown locally or sustainably, prepared more naturally, and include ethnic spices and flavors. In fact, in one survey, 44 percent of chefs said that the trend of local food sourcing grew the most over the decade ending in 2015.1 Fresh and house-made ingredients are also appealing to today's consumers, as well as street food and food trucks.
There are many opportunities to pursue your creative culinary passion, regardless of whatever your specific interests may be. Whether you want to run a kitchen in a local boutique restaurant or become a top chef for a major franchise, one of your best bets for beginning your career is to obtain a culinary arts education. It can give you a solid foundation from which you can start building your career as a chef.
- Average salary—$45,920
- Top-end salary—$74,170 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Nine percent, 11,300
Baker or Pastry Artist
If you love the idea of sharing delicious breads or delectable desserts with the masses, then becoming a baker or pastry artist could be an ideal choice for you. There is a real know-how and science behind crafting perfectly baked goods. You may be wise to begin mastering your skills in a baking or pastry arts program. It can give you the footing needed to grab attention in the baking world.
With carefully fine-tuned skills, you could be ready to do just about anything, whether you want to set up your own specialty pastry shop, prepare artisanal breads for local grocers and markets, or create a variety of mouthwatering treats in a large commercial bakery.
- Average salary—$26,270
- Top-end salary—$38,400 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Seven percent, 13,000
Food Service Manager
You could embark on a culinary career that focuses on operations. With jobs like restaurant, kitchen, or catering manager, a food service management position is a great option for individuals who possess both a strong business sense and a love for culinary arts. And there are a number of restaurant management schools that can help aspiring professionals like you enter the industry.
Depending on the size of establishment you work for, you could secure a management position that focuses on the front of house, back of house, or both. Front-house managers focus on the serving and bartending staff. They ensure that customer service standards are being met and that food and drinks are coming out as expected. Back-house managers, on the other hand, are responsible for the kitchen and food preparation staff. They oversee the kitchen, check on portion quality and size, and make sure that health and safety standards are upheld.
Most management positions will also require you to be involved in areas like staffing and scheduling. You could be responsible for interviewing, hiring, training, and ensuring that each shift is staffed adequately. You could also oversee areas like ordering, inventory management, and costing. It really depends on the type of business and the scope of your role.
- Average salary—$53,640
- Top-end salary—$83,010 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Eight percent, 3,700
Lodging Manager (in the accommodation & food services sector)
This position is sometimes similar to that of a food service manager except that it includes the addition of overseeing accommodations. Lodging managers, also known as hospitality managers, typically oversee entire facilities that include both accommodations and food services, like hotels and resorts. They tend to focus on overall guest experiences and ensure that the business is organized and profitable. Lodging managers can be involved in many areas of financial, human resources, and operations management.
If you like the sound of this interesting career path, then you may want to consider attending a hospitality management school. You could find a program that prepares you to work for all types and sizes of lodging establishments, from small inns to large corporate resorts.
- Average salary—$57,810
- Top-end salary—$94,330 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Nine percent, 2,800
Unique Careers in Food
When you research unique career possibilities in the food industry, you can come up with hundreds of ideas. There are multiple niche areas popping up in food service and production. Take a look at a few of these exciting possibilities below to see if any of them appeal to you.
Bed & Breakfast Owner
Many bed and breakfast (B&B) owners would tell you that their work is a labor of love. You need to enjoy meeting and engaging with people of all backgrounds, providing memorable hospitality in your home, and serving your guests delicious food. And there are good opportunities in the B&B industry. In fact, the bed and breakfast market grew by 4.6 percent from 2010 to 2015.5
A growing number of travelers are seeking the personalized experiences that B&Bs can offer over larger resorts and hotels. Along with free breakfasts, B&Bs often include free parking, Wi-Fi connections, and even evening wine and appetizer services. Guests may also benefit from personalized trip planning and transportation services, all of which are typically included in the price of their stay.
Because bed and breakfasts are privately owned businesses, salary data is not available. But if you are running a small four-room B&B that operates on an average of 50-percent capacity (which is realistic for a B&B over the course of a year), you can expect to earn approximately $62,000 per year. That is based on a nightly rate of $85 and does not take into account your operational costs. Of course, the amount that you earn is based on a number of factors including the area in which you are based, how much you charge a night, if you provide add-on services, and your occupancy rate (which typically improves over time as your business becomes more known).
Individuals interested in opening a bed and breakfast can benefit from business management training. It can provide you with a solid understanding of key business principles from accounting to marketing, which could help you build a successful business a little faster. Some programs even include a culinary component.
Whether as an avid home cook or a culinary professional, becoming a cookbook author could be the food career that you are after. A good first step is to develop a theme for your cookbook. Then you would likely want to contact potential publishers to get an idea of their interest. Another option is to look into crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter that can enable you to obtain funding without the backing of a publisher.
Once you have come up with a viable idea and a means to get it to the market, you can work on perfecting and compiling your best tried-and-true recipes and accompanying them with beautiful photos. You will want to write a book that is both on-trend with consumers and has a look that grabs their attention.
And it is worth noting that many cookbook authors garner attention by food blogging as a supplement to their publications. A food blog can be a great way to gain followers and create publicity for your book before it has hit the shelves. You may even want to check out some writing schools that could help you acquire authoring skills that can enhance the content of your blogs or books.
- Average salary—$69,130
- Top-end salary—$114,530 or more
- Projected job growth and openings (for all authors and writers)—Two percent, 3,100
The food industry has led to all kinds of niche markets. As a result, many people have become food entrepreneurs. These people have usually built successful businesses based on one or two specialty products that they have developed in their own kitchens. And with the explosion of the Internet, food entrepreneurs are able to reach markets that were previously hard to access.
If you make a to-die-for BBQ sauce, mouthwatering salsa, or other prepared food that could be commercially successful, then you may want to become a food entrepreneur. With solid business skills, (which you could acquire at an entrepreneur school) and one or more quality products, you could be on your way to creating a successful business. You'll need to become familiar with areas related to food labeling, permitting, regulations, and health and safety. And you'll also want to enhance your sales efforts by making contacts with food distributors and connecting with local retailers that could sell your products.
Because entrepreneurs are self-employed, salary and job outlook data is not available. Your earnings and potential growth of your business rests upon your product mix, pricing, and promotions. If you are offering a product that appeals to a large market segment, and you work hard to establish your business, then you could make a good living while being able to pursue your passion.
Professional Food Forager
A food forager is most known as a person who goes into the forest and other natural settings to find foods that are grown in the wild. However, a new career field is emerging for professional food foragers who search through farmers' markets and other local businesses in order to source food for restaurants.
Chefs do not typically have the time to source ingredients like locally grown produce or artisanal products, so they hire professional food foragers to do it for them. Foragers source the ingredients and sometimes even educate the chefs and restaurant staff as to the origin of the items.
Since this is a relatively new field, earning and job growth data is not readily available. However, a 2015 survey found that 68 percent of restaurant customers were more likely to choose restaurants that use local food items, and 60 percent of customers were more likely to frequent restaurants that offer eco-friendly food.1 So as more restaurants tap into this trend, it's likely that professional food foraging services will become more in-demand.
Most individuals working in this field are professionally trained chefs who also possess backgrounds in food science. Research chefs come up with new foods and dishes for food-manufacturing companies, restaurants, and other food-based businesses. They often have their hands in areas related to research, product development, marketing, and sales. Many research chefs report that their days offer a lot of variety. They can be found doing anything from conducting research on the newest food trends and attending industry trade shows to developing ingredients or dishes in kitchens and engaging with customers and focus groups.
Careers in the food industry of this nature can take several years to achieve. You may want to consider obtaining culinary arts training to get started. Then, while you gain experience in a professional kitchen, you can take food science courses that could support your goal of becoming a research chef.
- Average salary—$48,430
- Top-end salary—$83,990 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—31 percent, 1,400
This is a great career option if you have a love of food and excel in communicating and building relationships with all types of people. As a restaurant publicist, you are responsible for developing a good brand image for a restaurant, making its presence known, and "putting out fires" in the event of any negative attention. With more than one million restaurants operating in the U.S., the work of a restaurant publicist is becoming increasingly important.
You have to understand your clients' customers and the best platforms to reach them. Some restaurants may have a client base that is best targeted through traditional mediums like print and radio ads, whereas other restaurants may need more of a focus on online mediums. You also have to possess a good understanding of restaurant operations since you may need to assist with training staff, setting service standards, and even designing and writing menus. These aspects all contribute to a restaurant's image.
Restaurant publicists usually work for a public relations firm rather than one individual restaurant. However, some of the larger restaurant chains may employ in-house publicists. And although there is not just one clear educational path that leads to this career, training in communication studies or public relations can be a great first step.
- Average salary—$45,720
- Top-end salary—$76,220 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Seven percent, 100
Manufacturing & Food Science Careers
When looking at your options within the food industry, careers in manufacturing and processing may be of interest to you. It is an intriguing time to work in the sector. Important shifts are taking place in food manufacturing as consumers are moving toward healthier eating and are more often seeking foods that possess organic and non-GMO (i.e., not genetically modified) ingredients. And many potential food-labeling laws, like ones that would require GMO foods to be labeled, are currently making their way through Congress.
Another growing concern is nutritional quality. More and more consumers want products with less sugar, preservatives, and processed ingredients. What all of this means is that interesting changes are taking place in the food-manufacturing industry, and they may result in reshaping the roles of workers—from food scientists to sales reps.
The food-manufacturing sector requires professionals from all backgrounds, including business, information technology, and the skilled trades. While these professions tend to be higher-paying, it isn't expected that they'll have a lot of job growth within the food-manufacturing sector. However, it is expected that careers in food science, as well as other jobs that are related to the actual manufacturing processes, will grow. Some of these occupations are detailed below.
Agricultural or Food Science Technician
This occupation can involve working in all aspects of agricultural processing. Food science technicians often focus on areas like health and safety, process and technology improvements, distribution, preservation, and quality control. They may also study crops and plants in order to improve yields and enhance certain attributes of the plants. Most positions require a bachelor's degree in food science or a related field.
- Average salary—$39,000
- Top-end salary—$58,270 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Five percent, 1,600
Food Scientist or Technologist
A food scientist is typically involved in researching, developing, and improving food products and manufacturing processes. Most scientists tend to specialize in a specific area such as processing, quality assurance, or research. Depending on your specialty, you could be responsible for determining the nutritional content of products, researching new ingredients, or enforcing government food regulations. Like food science technicians, food scientist jobs usually require at least a bachelor's degree in a related discipline.
- Average salary—$72,030
- Top-end salary—$118,390 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—Five percent, 1,900
This is one of many different entry-level positions found in food-manufacturing facilities. Food batchmakers follow recipes in order to cook large batches of food. You could be responsible for measuring ingredients, monitoring and operating a variety of equipment, adjusting cooking temperatures, conducting quality-control tests, and cleaning and sterilizing equipment. Although most training takes place on the job, you could opt for an education in an area that interests you, like electrical or mechanical engineering. That way, you have more opportunities to progress your career within the food-manufacturing sector.
- Average salary—$29,210
- Top-end salary—$44,900 or more
- Projected job growth and openings—One percent, 26,4006
2. Opportunities for Career Progression
Among the many excellent benefits of food industry careers are the opportunities for advancement once you begin working in the sector. For example, many head chefs for well-known restaurants actually started their careers as entry-level line cooks. And most restaurant managers and owners began their careers at the bottom as well. In fact, 90 percent of restaurant managers and 80 percent of restaurant owners started at the entry level.1
The same thing can be seen in the food-manufacturing sector. A lot of people start out at the entry level within a processing facility and work their way up into positions that are in line with their interests. You may be able to pursue job opportunities related to business, the skilled trades, or technology.
3. Versatile & Transferable Career Skills
Careers in the food industry can equip you with a number of occupational skills that are valued in other sectors. Knowing this can provide you with some comfort in the event that you realize pursuing a career in the food industry was not the right choice for you. Working in the restaurant sector could allow you to develop exceptional communication and customer service skills. And working in kitchens and manufacturing facilities can help you become highly organized and efficient. Depending on the focus of your job, you may even possess transferable skills in areas like accounting, human resources, and purchasing. All of these competencies are valued in many other business-related fields and could help you transition to another career path more easily should that situation ever arise.
4. Stimulating Social Interaction
If you enjoy interacting with a wide range of different types of people, then food service careers may be a worthwhile consideration for you. Jobs that are in the front end of a restaurant, such as server, bartender, or restaurant manager, provide you with the opportunity to meet new and interesting people every day. And larger restaurants and food service establishments tend to have a lot of employees, which can mean developing new friendships with co-workers—people that you, otherwise, wouldn't have ever met. Social interaction is also an appeal to other food-related careers, like bed and breakfast owner or restaurant publicist.
5. Free and Discounted Food
When it comes to the perks of food industry careers, you cannot overlook free or discounted food. All restaurants have different policies, but it is common to receive one free or discounted meal during or at the end of your shift. Some restaurants even offer employee discounts when you are off-shift so that you can enjoy the menu as a customer but pay a discounted rate. And many restaurants will allow employees to take home leftovers from the kitchen at the end of the day rather than throwing them into the garbage. If you are the type of person who eats out frequently, then this benefit can actually save you a considerable amount of money over the course of a year.
And it is worth noting that some food-manufacturing companies are known for giving employees free and discounted food products as well. For example, it is reported that Mars Chocolate employees receive free candy!7
6. The Chance to Burn Calories While on the Job
The reality of most careers in food is that you are going to be on your feet. A lot. The pace is going to be fast, there are going to be a lot of repetitive motions, and you'll likely be engaged in moderate to heavy lifting. But most consider that a good thing. Your daily exercise routine is basically built into your job. In fact, food industry professionals could be burning anywhere from 150 to 200 calories per hour.8 In an eight-hour shift, that could amount to 1,200 to 1,600 calories!
7. Desirable Health & Retirement Benefits, Plus Other Perks
As a growing number of companies are trying to draw in and retain good employees, many employers are developing attractive health and benefits plans for their regular full-time employees. And sometimes these plans extend to part-time and casual employees as well. Here are some additional benefits that an employer could offer you:
- Health care benefits that cover things like doctor and hospital visits (and sometimes even alternative therapies such as massage or physiotherapy)
- Education plans that help you obtain a post-secondary education
- Retirement savings plans
- Paid vacation
- Performance bonuses and incentives
- Free coffee, tea, juice, and soft drinks
- Paid gym memberships and in-house exercise programs
- Paid or discounted daycare
- Pet-friendly offices (such as those found at some pet-food manufacturers, which encourage their office employees to bring their friendly dogs and cats to work)
Turn Your Motivation Into Action
You have discovered some great careers in food along with the advantages that they can offer. And you are feeling motivated to go after your professional goals. But maybe you think that you would benefit from an education that helps you develop your natural talents. So why not start that process right now? It's as simple as entering your zip code below to quickly generate a list of schools that are offering programs near you. Setting out on a new career path is that easy!
1 National Restaurant Association, website last visited on February 23, 2016.
2 Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Made In America: Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Products, website last visited on February 23, 2016.
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on April 7, 2016.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on February 23, 2016.
5 IBIS World, "Bed & Breakfast & Hostel Accommodations in the US: Market Research Report", website last visited on February 23, 2016.
6 O*NET, website last visited on February 23, 2016.
7 Fortune, "Mars Incorporated: A pretty sweet place to work," website last visited on February 23, 2016.
8 CalorieLab, Calories Burned by Occupation, website last visited on February 23, 2016.