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Sector Information

The food and drink manufacturing and processing sector is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £78.7 billion, employing around 460,000 people and accounting for nearly 15% of the total manufacturing workforce. The sector contributes:

  • 16% of the UK manufacturing sector’s turnover
  • 14% of the UK manufacturing sector’s Gross Value Added (GVA)
  • 6% of UK manufacturing exports

Improve is the Sector Skills Council for the food and drink manufacturing and processing sector and includes the following sub-sectors: animal feed; bakery; beer; confectionery; dairy; fish; meat; soft drinks; and wholesale of other foods (including fish, crustaceans and molluscs).

    There are more than 11,100 workplaces in the sector and 15,800 retail baker, butcher and fishmonger outlets. At a regional level, 14% of the workforce is located in the North East, 13% in Yorkshire and the Humber, and 13% in the East Midlands.

    Source: Improve AACS LMI report 2010 and UK Labour Market Information Profile 2009/2010


    Sector employment and future trends

    There are approximately 460,000 employees in the food and drink sector, which accounts for 1 in 7 of all manufacturing jobs. The bakery and meat processing sectors dominate employment in the sector accounting for 25% and 21% of sector employment.

    Between 2000 and 2007, 80,000 jobs were lost, equivalent to a 16% drop in employment levels. These job losses were mainly from the meat processing and bakery sub-sectors. The declines in employment numbers have taken place when the sector has experienced rapid technological change, pressures on costs and margins, globalisation and off-shoring, extensive merger and acquisition activity, and the growth in market power of the retailers.

    Employment numbers are expected to continue to contract (by 6% between 2007- 2017). However, employment projections suggest the food and drink sector will need around 137,000 new recruits between 2007-2017 to replace those retiring or leaving the sector for other reasons. Future demands are expected in high-skills occupations, including managers, senior officials, professionals and skilled trades.

    Workforce profile:

    • 67% of the workforce is male.
    • 90% of the workforce is employed full-time.
    • 96% of people working in the sector are employees.
    • 50% of the workforce has been with their current employer for more than 5 years, and 27% for less than 2 years.
    • 94% of the workforce has a permanent contract.

    Source: Improve AACS LMI report 2010 and UK Labour Market Information Profile 2009/2010

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    Sector workplaces

    • There are more than 11,100 workplaces in the sector, plus 15,800 retail baker, butcher and fishmonger outlets.
    • The number of workplaces has remained relatively stable between 2006-2007.
    • The bakery (27%), wholesale of other food (18%) and meat processing (11%) sub-sectors dominate the sector’s workplaces.
    • The majority of the workforce (65%) is employed in establishments with 1-10 employees. 95% of sector businesses employ less than 200 individuals.

    Source: Improve AACS LMI report 2010 and UK Labour Market Information Profile 2009/2010

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    Vacancies and skill deficiencies

    For most companies recruitment issues are managed quite effectively with few reporting vacancies. Sector-wide problems of recruitment of manual/semi-skilled workers (e.g. operatives) have, in the recent past, been largely overcome by the arrival of migrant workers. However as economic conditions in the UK decline, the flow of migrants to the UK from overseas is anticipated to fall.

    Hard-to-fill vacancies are primarily reported in technical and skilled roles. Engineering, and other specialist skilled roles e.g. food scientists and technologists, quality assurance, bakers, millers, fish filleters and smokehouse operators.

    Employers report clear skills issues at management and supervisory levels – especially in operational, people management and softer skills such as leadership, motivation and confidence building. Other managerial skills gaps are sales strategy, IT skills, and financial management.

    Basic literacy and numeracy skills along with understanding of English are often skills deficiencies found in production roles.

    Source: UK Labour Market Information Profile 2009/2010

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    Future drivers

    Recently, there have been major changes in consumer behaviour which impact on the sector, such as:

    • the traditional ‘three meals a day’ is being replaced by snacking and grazing
    • the increasing number of households and decreasing household size leads to a greater demand for smaller pack sizes
    • a greater reliance on ‘others’ to prepare and cook food which has resulted in a greater demand for ready prepared food
    • an increasing awareness of regional and local food
    • a greater awareness by consumers of food production systems and a lack of confidence in mainstream food

    Source: Improve AACS LMI report 2010 and UK Labour Market Information Profile 2009/2010

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