Career Advice

Careers in the food and drink industry


The UK food and drink industry is the UK's largest manufacturing sector.  It employs over 400,000 people across over 6,000 businesses, accounting for 16% of the UK's total manufacturing sector, contributing £82 billion to the economy - the manufacture of dairy, meat and pastry products is worth £21 billion to the UK economy alone.  It's Gross Value in the UK is nearly the sum of the UK Automotive and Aerospace industries combined. It is also the UK’s most important manufacturing sector and UK food and drink manufacturing is continuing to rise.

The UK food and drink manufacturing industry actually comprises over 30 different sectors. The largest of these is the bakery sector followed by meat processing, drinks industries, dairies, animal feed and fish processing.  However, a staggering 96% of businesses are micro to medium sized enterprises.  

UK food and drink productivity has increased by 11% over the last 5 years.  However, current figures show that the industry suffers from a number of skills gaps, namely in science, technology and engineering related roles and that by 2020 we will need 170,300 new recruits to meet growing demand.  The government wants the industry to grow 20% by 2020, and in reality, tens of thousands of highly skilled new employees will be needed to meet this goal. But even now, companies are struggling to fill one in five food scientist and food engineer vacancies in the UK. 

Britain is an ideal location for global food and drink companies and is attracting significant interest from foreign investment.  Our exports have doubled in the last 10 years to £12.8b, Food and Drink manufacturers have factories and offices all over the country, particularly in certain areas of the UK – North West, North and Midlands. There is also significant growth among smaller producers, for example with the explosion of micro-breweries and the trend for high-quality organic products. These companies can be found in almost every kind of location, from the centre of big cities to entirely rural environments near the source of their ingredients.

Angela Coleshill, from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and Board Member of Improve (skills council for food and drink) says, “30% of our workforce are going to retire in the next 10 years.  It’s actually quite scary”.  She goes onto say “We recognise that to deliver our shared vision of 20% by 2020, we will need to build a strong pipeline of talent . . . “

Justine Fosh, CEO from the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink has identified five factors that had contributed to enhancing the appeal of careers in food and drink (over other sectors like aerospace and automotive). They are:

        - Industry recognition of skills shortages

        - Addressing perceptions of food manufacturing careers

        - Raising the sector’s profile among job hunters

        - Trebling of apprenticeship openings

        - More guidance for school leavers and students on study choices