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2008 Food Processing Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey

June 30, 2008
Our second annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey's recurring theme of “More work dumped onto fewer people” continues.

In a climate of collapsing home sales, doubled fuel and food prices, layoffs and slashed salaries, on-the-job stress is climbing. Visibly. Job insecurity rose 10 percent in this, our second annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey, with more than 45 percent of workers worried how long they’ll have their current job.

Nevertheless, job satisfaction inched up nearly 2.5 percentage points, even as the average food processing salary inched downward ($95,226). Although those working more than 40 hours a week dipped slightly, so did those taking all the vacation time they’re entitled to.

When we inaugurated our first Salary & Job Satisfaction survey last year, we were overwhelmed by the response you gave. We had about the same amazing response this year: Nearly 2,000 processors answered our nosy request to learn what you do, how much you earn doing it and how well you like what you’re doing.

Responses to what you and your colleagues make annually show a nice, gradual climb up the scale we provided into low six figures before the sharp drop-off at $201,000. In fact, 25 percent of you make between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. Precisely five make more than $501,000 (there were only two in this lofty group last year).

On the other end, last year’s below-$36,000 earners totaled just over 6.5 percent whereas this year the number went up to nearly 8.5 percent.

Actually, the “average” food processing salary is a misnomer. Salaries vary greatly by job category. As with our 2007 survey, the Corporate Management group is the best compensated. Their mean is $124,940 and their median was about $100,000. Those in management fell predominantly in the 50-64 age range (43 percent) and also self-identify predominantly as Caucasian (89 percent, vs. last year’s 91 percent) and male (76 percent, vs. last year’s 73 percent).

Those in the Marketing/Sales category are slightly younger, falling mostly in the 40-49 year age range (41 percent). Salarywise, their median is $93,000 and average is $103,672 – down significantly from last year’ $138,983 (we must have had a highly compensated group last year). The percentage of females rose to 42 percent from 36 percent in 2007, and Caucasians went up to 93 percent (last year 87 percent). Fifteen percent have MBAs.

again was the most gender-even, with 57 percent male and 43 percent female, two-percent more balanced than last year. They’re still the best educated, with 93 percent college-degreed (nearly 14 percent doctorates). The median of their salary range is $85,000 with a mean at $101,307.R&D

The Plant Operations/Engineering group is still overwhelmingly Caucasian and male, at 86 percent and 89 percent, respectively. This group reports a salary median also at $85,000, but a five-figure average salary: $88,677.

Purchasing agents’ average compensation took a hefty drop, falling from $83,563 to $72,280, with the median the lowest of all our groups at $65,000. The level of college degrees in this group still sits at just more than half (52 percent, down from 55 percent in 2007), and 69 percent are men, down a percentage point from last year. But purchasers no longer are the most heavily imbalanced as far as race: Last year, 95 percent labeled themselves as Caucasian but this year that’s fallen to 85 percent.

African-Americans made up about 3 percent of our respondents, a level that’s pretty consistent across all the job titles; their average salary is $83,142. Latin/Hispanics make up more than 11 percent, with an average income of $89,066. Women, who made up nearly 32 percent of our respondents, earned $73,196 -- in spite of 76 percent holding college degrees, compared to 72 percent of men. One of them is in that $500,000+ club.

Overall, more than 73 percent of our respondents are college graduates, with 18.4 percent holding master’s degrees and 5.1 percent doctorates.

The little extras

Our observation in last year’s survey that a job has to offer more than a simple annual salary is showing signs of heading for shaky ground. Although most processors are offering benefits, we saw slight slippage this year in some of the extras.

Raises and monetary benefits are always a sticking point, but this year’s comments on the topic betray growing frustration. “Cost of benefits goes up most every year and (our) pension was frozen five years ago. The company is much more conservative with raises and bonuses now,” said an operator at a large grain milling and cereal products corporation in St. Louis.

Just over three-fourths of respondents get a raise every year, as opposed to 80 percent in our 2007 report. But the raises are better: In 2007, two-thirds of raises were only 1-3 percent of salary. This year, 49 percent made 1-3 percent but another 25 percent made 4-6 percent of their annual salary for a raise. No comments on whether or not this was enough to offset rising food and gasoline costs.

This year, 69 percent told us they received a bonus, incentive or share in profit. Last year, only 65 percent did. For more than half of those, this equaled 1-9 percent of their salary. Although that’s lower than last year’s 61 percent in that category, that’s because those receiving 10-20 percent bonuses rose above 31 percent (29 last year) and those getting 21-35 percent bonuses went over 9 percent compared to less than 7 last year. On the other side of the coin, the number of processors taking a pay cut stayed at about one in seven.
Nine in 10 are still receiving coverage for medical, and eight in 10 still get dental. In fact, when it came to most benefits (life insurance, disability, pension, 401(k) match, tuition reimbursement, etc.), very little changed. Telecommuting, flex time and day care improved by a few percentage points.

Of course, the benefits must be for more than “show.” Says one engineer at a company making further-processed and packaged foods: “There is a tuition reimbursement benefit, but there’s very little time to take advantage of it — staffing is too bare bones [for the benefit] to be effective.”

You deserve a break today

The U.S. has the fewest paid vacation days of nearly any developed country on earth. According to Take Back Your Time Day, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP) at Cornell University, only 14 percent of Americans get a vacation of two weeks. Worse, according to CRESP, “Many others are afraid to use their paid leave for fear they could be laid off or demoted if they do.” In fact, notes CRESP, the average American vacation is now down to a “long weekend.”

This shows in our survey. More than 40 percent of respondents did not take all their allotted vacation last year. In fact, one in 20 of respondents got no paid vacation at all. This might not seem like a lot, but it’s nearly three times the number without vacation time last year. All categories of vacation time saw a 2 percent drop except the top two of 5-6 weeks or 6 weeks-plus.

If we’re enjoying it less, we’re not working much more than we did last year, with 55 percent of respondents reporting they work 41-50 hours per week vs. last year’s 56. The 51-60 hours workers dropped to 23 percent compared to 25 last year and only a half-percent more work more than 61 hours a week (just over 6 percent).

Compensation for all that overtime is another matter. This year we asked how many of you working more than 40 hours per week get paid for that extra time. A whopping 88 percent said “no!”

Our aging population shows, with nearly 40 percent of respondents in the 50-64 group. The next largest, 40-49, was close with 34 percent. The 30-39 year olds made up just 19 percent of our survey-takers. Forty-one of those polled are still working beyond age 65 — almost 2.5 percent. And lest you think these are the stuffed shirts, only four in 10 of those senior workers are in corporate management.

The Midwest suburbs are still central, holding 41 percent of those polled for this survey. Mid-Atlantic holds the next largest concentration with one in five. More than a third are urban and 19 percent are in the South and the Southwest.

Those surveyed have a solid history in the food business. Almost a quarter have been in it for 6-14 years; only 14 percent for six or fewer. An amazing 55 percent have 15-34 years, and 7 percent have put in more than 35 years. Impressive!

Our processors are evenly divided as far as loyalty to the job goes. A third have been at their company for five years or fewer, another third for 6-14 years and just under a third for 15-34 years. Thirty four of you have been at your job for 35 years or more. You either work for some seriously great companies or own them!

Nearly one in five of you work for MultiMegaCorp companies of 5,000 or more workers. Another 16 percent work for companies of 1,000-4,999 workers. Companies of 250-999 workers occupy 24 percent of respondents and 17 percent are in companies of just 100-249 employees. Companies of fewer than 100 workers engage another 24 percent of those surveyed.

But do you LIKE it?

When we asked last year how well you like your job, 68 percent of you said you were either “somewhat” or “very” satisfied. That climbed to just over 70 percent this year. This not only beats the national average, but The Conference Board Inc. says fewer than half of Americans claim to be satisfied with their jobs. The group notes job satisfaction is continuing its decades-long decline.

With so many so satisfied, companies must be meeting important needs of their workers. What are those needs? By far, the answer is to be challenged (i.e., not bored) by their work. More than 37 percent positioned that as the top issue. Expressed as a poignant and well-articulated plea, a plant ops expert at a large multinational corporation making nutritional foods and beverages noted, “I am not challenged at work; I’m not working in an area that allows me to use my strengths and provide value every day.”

Another processor, this time working R&D at a multinational agricultural and protein products manufacturer in New Jersey, explains “(There’s) no real motivation to do better since it seems that no matter how good a job you do, it is not enough to carry the company into the next generation. It’s all about, ‘what you are doing for me today?’ It seems only the bosses make the good money, and not much trickles down.”

Speaking of trickle-down theory, salary was a distant second as a motivator, at only 21 percent. Money actually dropped a couple percentage points (3) compared to last year’s survey. Being appreciated by supervisors and owners came in third at 16 percent, and job security was fourth with over 13 percent. Advancement opportunities made fifth place with just over 9 percent.

But those smaller things can count for a lot. A plant ops engineer with an MBA, working at a small confectionary products company in northern Illinois, describes the worst of the industry: “I wear too many hats. Being in a smaller company, I am in charge of maintenance, all CMMS data input and output, all MRO purchasing and purchase research, PLC programming and maintenance, robotics maintenance, office PC programming and anything else remotely technical on a 24/7 basis. Raises are minimal, and never exceed the cost of living and no bonuses for many years. I have no control over my budget and monthly cost information is unavailable to me, as the company is private (and therefore secretive). Promotion opportunities are nonexistent, salary is well below the norm for my knowledge and experience level.”

Whew! After that litany, you’d think this more-than-able worker is justifiably fed up. But he goes on to note, “The stress is lower than in larger companies I've worked for in the past, challenge and variety of work is ample, I have a good boss and my talents are at least somewhat respected by peers.” The latter endorsement likely explains why he’s been at his job for about a decade.

Bottom of the list — surprisingly, considering the troubled times we’re in — was the need for a low-stress environment, at under 4 percent. Still, stress is where you encounter it. A dairy products manufacturer in Wisconsin clearly was at the end of his rope when he wrote his company suffers from “lack of communication and focus; ‘Chicken Little’ syndrome when problems occur; near-complete lack of understanding at senior management level vis SPC, Lean, Process Excellence, 6 Sigma, etc., (yet they) beat those buzzwords to death. Sales and Marketing live in their own world where laws and theories of physics and economics do not apply, e.g. touting great ‘variable income’ being derived from products we are losing money on.”

The upside

In spite of this year’s flood of complaints -- such as “overworked, underpaid,” “not compensated for additional work” and “long hours and low staffing levels” -- there certainly was plenty of praise going around as well.

Two and a half times as many respondents provided praise as provided gripes this year. Comments such as these abound: “I enjoy producing and maintaining a quality product our customers need and want, making us a leader in our industry”; “I thrive on helping develop new products to maintain our competitive edge”; “As a Quality Control supervisor, I enjoy the work I do and take pride in the fact we produce very healthy and safe products for consumers”; “(I’m in a) positive environment, (with) challenging work (and a) solid management team.”

Other positive responses included: “I find my job challenging and enjoy the people with whom I interact”; “Great job diversity, many opportunities to grow and succeed; good pay and benefits”; “Salary and benefits are good; positive commendations from supervisor and team leaders happen frequently. (I have) technically challenging tasks (and) interesting work”; and “Recognition of jobs well done.”

A number of folks even describe what anyone would deem the perfect job. Says Richard Turchetta, a quality control expert for a Lincoln, R.I., bakery, “I am given total management control over my department without interference from higher management. I am the Food Safety Manager and I receive excellent support from the president and board of directors creating new policies and procedures that benefit the company. I am able to purchase all tools and equipment necessary to perform our function, within reason, without upper management interference.”

Similarly, Rebecca Lewis, a lab manager for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bolthouse Farms Inc., writes that her place of employment has “nice people, lots of laughter and much appreciation. Management is good about being clear about what they need from you and your department; they also want to know what you need to get the job done or done better. Continuing to learn is encouraged, with no scapegoating if there are problems, just finding the solution. That’s what I love about this place.”

The food and beverage industry is still a strong one. Although rising commodity and energy prices are tightening both consumer and company spending, the fact is people rely on the food industry for tasty, nutritious and convenient meals and meal components, plus the beverages to wash them down with and the sweets and snacks to follow them. It’s the American way, and you — the processors — should be proud of the part you play in making it happen.


This web-based survey was sent as an e-mailed link to all food and beverage processors who subscribe to Food Processing and provide their e-mail address. The 1,700+ responses were automatically assigned an identifying number for anonymity during analysis. Answers were collated as a comprehensive total as well as across several categories. All responses are kept confidential.

Product categories in which respondents work the majority of their time: fruits and vegetables (6 percent), dairy products (7 percent), baked goods (8 percent), beverages (8 percent), confectionery products (5 percent), meat/poultry/seafood (19 percent), grain products/milling (4 percent), snacks (4 percent), further-processed & packaged foods & specialties (including frozen foods, meals, pet foods, sauces & condiments -- 14 percent), value-added ingredients/powder mixes (7 percent) and 19 percent logged under “other” (total slightly more than 100 percent due to rounding).

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