2009 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey - Food Processors are Happier, Wealthier

Despite the economic upheaval, our third annual Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey shows an increase in pay while satisfaction holds steady.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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At a time of great job stress and pay cuts across American industry, the average salary in the food industry managed a 5 percent climb in the past 12 months while job satisfaction held pretty steady.

The average pay for all respondents to our third annual Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey was $99,877, up nearly 5 percent from last year’s $95,226. Those very satisfied or at least somewhat satisfied combined was 68 percent, down a smidge from last year’s 71 percent.

What has us most worried is the number of responses. We had 1,732 people take the survey last year and 1,286 this year. What happened to those 446 workers?

This is not necessarily the explanation: “They laid off a third of our workforce and [we] have been in a wage freeze for six months,” wrote a 40-49-year-old woman at a Southwest potato processor.

“Everyone is scared,” wrote a 30-39-year old at a southern meat/poultry/seafood company.

“The 24/7 expectation and the impossibility of truly taking time off is having a negative impact on many, mental and emotional,” wrote an R&D manager at a Great Lakes processor. “We all have Blackberrys we check and respond on around the clock – all week and on weekends.”

Yet, we expected worse. As one respondent said: “We’re doing better than last year due to lower input costs, but demand has definitely slowed.”

“No one’s received a raise in ’09 based on work completed in ’08, but we did get bonuses,” wrote an executive at AIG Insurance – just kidding, that was a 50-64-year-old  guy from a New England packaged foods company.

“We may moan and groan about how hard you are working, but think of the alternative. Consider yourself lucky,” wrote another. 

Food Processor Salaries by Job Title

The salary survey was taken April, arguably when the general economy had hit rock bottom and perhaps was even showing signs of rebounding (the Dow Jones Industrial Average was above 8,000 for most of the month).

Some top-line changes from last year:

  • We had a slightly older group, with 44 percent in the 50-64 age range, up 5 percentage points from last year’s crowd.
  • R&D people (22 percent) barely outnumbered our Plant Ops respondents (21 percent), whereas last year Plant Ops was the biggest group, representing 27 percent.
  • It was a slightly more-tenured group, with 66 percent having at least 15 years in the food business (last year 61 percent had 15+ years).
  • Significantly fewer people get raises every year: 65 percent this year versus 76 percent last year. The question’s somewhat redundant, but when we asked how much this year’s raise was, 30 percent said they didn’t get one; only 18 percent got snubbed this time last year.
  • Profit sharing and bonuses were similarly down (off 4 percentage points).
  • While about the same numbers continue to get medical, dental and life insurances, those getting a 401(k) match dropped by 3 percentage points.
  • There were several questions that didn’t indicate big changes: Gender is 69 percent male, race is 82 percent Caucasian.

Those having to take pay cuts increased only 0.5 percentage point. Respondents working more than 50 hours a week went down 2 percentage points (to 27 percent). But so did those getting paid for overtime (down to 10 percent).

Who responded

Throughout this report, we make generalizations for the food and beverage processing industry at large. But it’s important to note this is only a survey based on 1,286 people, a large sample, but only the readers of Food Processing magazine. 

hours worked

It’s a group that’s somewhat evenly divided among urban (35 percent), suburban (38 percent) and rural (27 percent) locales. Twenty-seven percent are from the Great Lakes states (the Southwest and middle Atlantic states are next at 17 and 16 percent). In education, nearly 79 percent have a college education, 21 percent have master’s degrees and 5 percent have doctorates.

As mentioned earlier, R&D edged out Plant Operations as the biggest responding group; right behind them is corporate management at 19 percent. Engineering and marketing and sales account for 10 percent each, and 4 percent are in purchasing.

Overall, they’re not kids – only 5.5 percent are under 30 – and they’ve been in food and beverage processing a while – as we said earlier, 66 percent have at least 15 years in. But they haven’t been at their current employer for very long: 34 percent have less than five years, another 36 percent have six to 14 years. Nearly half have held three or more jobs.
Respondents were a little heavily weighted toward larger companies. The biggest response (21 percent) said they were at companies or 5,000 or more people; another 15 percent had at least 1,000 coworkers.

And they represent all segments of the food industry. Only the meat, poultry and seafood (18 percent) and generic “further-processed and packaged foods” (16 percent) categories were in double figures; the other food categories were evenly represented.

Sixty-nine percent supervise at least somebody.

Across all the job categories, salaries create a pretty typical bell curve. They start angling upward at the $36,000-50,000 category, dip slightly at $86,000-100,000 then peak, in number of respondents, at $101,000-200,000 (26 percent of all responses). Salaries drop off precipitously then, with only 65 people making more than $200K … although four of you make somewhere above $501,000. 

Food Processors Hours Worked

It’s when you start cross-tabulating one question, one demographic, with another that interesting facts emerge:

  • The most dissatisfied group was the 50-64-year-olds: 7.5 percent were very dissatisfied and 14 percent were somewhat dissatisfied, far more than any other age group.
  • Not surprising: Job satisfaction increased with pay.
  • Men ($108,713) out-earn women ($80,598).
  • Salary increases with age, even past age 65. Those under 29 average $55,277; 30-39-year-olds make $87,240; 40-49-year-olds earn $101,991; 50-64-year-olds average $108,020; and the 65-plus crowd makes $113,861 (although that one old guy earning over $501,000 may throw off this measure).

But how do you feel?

Hours on the job are up. Fifty-five percent of you work 41-50 hours a week, and 22 percent put in 51-60. Another 5.4 percent log more than 61 hours a week. But only 10 percent of our respondents are paid overtime.

So it’s pretty apparent job stress is up … although we don’t ask that quantitatively.

We did ask how has the economy affected your company. We expected the negative stories, and there were many:

  • "The banks have frozen credit, which has literally halted customer purchase orders,” wrote one. “[It’s] like taking a Marine’s weapon away and sending him into battle.”
  • "Employees furloughed; spending freeze; no raises.”
  • "Our company is closing one of its plants to consolidate overhead. It makes economic sense to stay competitive, but many of us are losing our jobs unless we relocate to the other side of the country.”
  • “They’ve asked our group to take a 10 percent salary cut.”
  • “A lot of the benefits have been reduced. No more 401(k) match. Raises have been suspended indefinitely. Cost of living adjustments also been suspended indefinitely. No hiring can take place, even when a line is only 43 percent staffed. We can barely run the plant because of cost cutting initiatives. We don't have a water jug anymore or plastic cutlery in the breakroom.”
  • Education Level Completed
    “Salaries on hold. Crash and burn projects and business objectives. Much tighter scrutiny.”
  • “There’s more work for the consultants.”

But about every 10th one was a positive comment:

  • “More people staying at home and eating, so our business is up significantly.”
  • “Increased demand for peanut butter, so our sales are up.”
  • “Selling more candy than we can make, so adding shifts.”

Although the quotes are fascinating, the numbers don’t paint so gloomy a picture. We asked these questions consecutively: “If you’re dissatisfied, list your specific gripes”; and “If satisfied, list your specific praises.” In all, 201 answered the dissatisfied question, 451 the satisfied one. 

“I have a great boss; he leaves me alone, but is there when I need him,” wrote a 50-64-year-old in R&D at a very large multinational. “My job is challenging and stimulating -- there is always so much to learn, even though I have been in the food industry 30+ years. The learning never stops. Walk the aisles of a supermarket, watch people, [you’ll] see things that you may never have seen before (and you can't learn everything from the web...sorry).”

Ironically, the guy also checked the box “very dissatisfied.”

“I’m lucky enough to be able to do what I like to do and what I’m gifted with,” says a marketing and sales executive at another large multinational. “I enjoy going into work everyday. It is hard work with many challenges, but meeting those challenges is where the satisfaction comes."

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