Solid salary gains are accruing to food engineers and managers, despite the soft economy.

Read what your peers had to say:

A career in food processing never looks so good as when the rest of the work world looks bad. While workers in many manufacturing sectors wonder about the viability of their jobs and companies, seven out of 10 respondents to this year’sFood EngineeringSalary and Job Satisfaction Survey indicate they are very or somewhat secure in their jobs.

Three out of four say they feel as secure or more secure in their positions than they did a year ago.

Add to that salary increases that averaged 3 percent in the last 12 months, and a picture emerges of a profession where the living, if not exactly easy, is a good sight better than most alternatives. Food and beverage managers and supervisors are not immune to the outsourcing pressures and benefit squeezes affecting other American workers, but overall levels of satisfaction remain buoyantly high.

While average pay hikes are off sharply from recent years, the real gain net of inflation is down only slightly (see chart). Compared to other manufacturing segments, food and beverage ranked sixth among 14 sectors in the 2002-2003 Total Salary Increase Budget Survey by WorldatWork, formerly the American Compensation Association.

Despite the U.S. economic malaise, the proportion of food industry professionals who rate their jobs as very or somewhat secure has not wavered since 1997. While 25.5 percent of survey respondents feel less secure in their jobs now than they did a year ago, that figure has held steady for five years. Another 17.4 percent indicated they feel more secure, comparable to the proportion when the economy was booming.

Sidebar: See what readers had to say

Several questions inFood Engineering’s 2002 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey solicited written comments. Respondents were asked why they were satisfied or dissatisfied with their jobs, what steps their companies could take to increase their satisfaction and efficiency, and what were the most important workplace issues facing their firms.

The vast majority of the 467 respondents provided qualitative insights into the key issues for food industry professionals, resulting in a fascinating, thought-provoking assessment.

The writers’ identities are unknown, but their comments provide significant insight. To read what your peers had to say, visit the Food Engineering website at

When assessing security, no correlation was evident between years worked in the industry or years with current employer. Annual salary is a different story: the highest levels of job security were reported by respondents making six-figures; conversely, those earning less than $40,000 were three times more likely to rate their jobs as somewhat or very insecure than the rest of the respondents.

Income levels also are a factor in job satisfaction. Almost four of five respondents in the $100,000-plus salary range were somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs. Those making less than $40,000 were most likely to indicate some dissatisfaction. For the rest of the sample, satisfaction was fairly consistent, whether they earned $40,000 to $70,000 or $70,000 to $100,000.

Are food professionals unabashed optimists or easy graders when it comes to rating job satisfaction? Based on the written comments that accompanied satisfaction scores of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied), the latter seems to be the case. Only one in 10 indicated they were somewhat or very dissatisfied, and one in five opted for a neutral rating. But their comments suggest plenty of discontent. “No pay increase or bonus in three years,” one wrote. “No room for advancement” complained another.

People like to be challenged, and that word serves as a barometer of job satisfaction in respondents’ written comments. Of the 123 workers who said they were very satisfied, 22 percent of them mentioned job challenges in their written comments. The frequency among somewhat satisfied respondents was only slightly lower at 16 percent. Challenges were mentioned seven times by the 100 respondents who gave a neutral satisfaction rating, though the context was more likely negative than positive. Among very dissatisfied workers, the operative word was “lack,” be it their employer’s integrity, effective planning or leadership.

“Responsibility,” “variety,” “rewarding” and “diversity” were other hot buttons for satisfied workers, but others used those terms infrequently. When they did, the context was often negative.

A healthy paycheck has a bearing on satisfaction, and 13 percent of the very satisfied and 8.5 percent of the somewhat satisfied mentioned salary. Almost one in five respondents who were neutral on the issue of satisfaction mentioned compensation, and they were most likely to grumble about it. Direct mentions of pay were infrequent among dissatisfied workers, and the most positive comment was, “Salary is so-so.” Instead, they wrote of “lack of opportunities” and “company politics.”

The stock-market slide that wiped out billions of dollars in paper fortunes and forced postponement of early retirement plans for millions is increasing frustration levels for food professionals. Younger workers complain about the lack of advancement opportunities, while Baby Boomers bemoan career stagnation. “Company is practically age discriminating when considering promotions,” one worker wrote. Another complained about “an aging management team with no advancement possibilities.”

External Pressures

Workers are witnessing the flight of jobs and entire factories to other countries, and that is reflected in comments regarding key workplace issues. But pressure also is coming from lower cost competitors and customers, and that is impacting the viability of in-house positions.

Outsourcing and third-party service providers are having a greater impact on workloads than they did a year ago. One in eight respondents—12.4 percent—indicated manufacturing or packaging responsibilities have been outsourced at their firms in the last year, up from only 2.4 percent in the 2001 survey. Sanitation, maintenance or utility management were outsourced at 7.2 percent of respondents’ plants, triple the rate of a year ago.

Soft sales are tempering the impact of staff cuts at some firms. “The net effect of reduced staff and reduced sales activity has been a reduction in workload for each person,” one respondent noted. More frequently, the same staff is producing more: 37.1 percent indicated no new positions were created to handle increased production, while 19.5 percent added jobs to handle increased production.

Layoffs and other reductions in force impacted 13.5 percent of survey participants’ firms, up from 8.2 percent a year ago. A hiring freeze was in effect for 7.7 percent, more than double last year’s 3.3 percent rate.

While respondents reported slightly longer work weeks (see chart on page 29), the additional time was more evenly distributed than in past years. Three in 10 experienced an increase in work hours, the same as last year, but the majority saw an increase of five hours or less. In 2001, 56 percent reported increases of six hours or more.

Skyrocketing medical insurance costs are affecting workers across the nation, including the food industry. Almost half—45.5 percent—of respondents indicated health insurance costs to employees have increased in the last year. Bonus programs for 17 percent were canceled or delayed, 6.4 percent saw their employer contributions to 401-K plans reduced or eliminated, and 4.6 percent reported vacation or personal days had been reduced. Almost three in 10 indicated annual raises were delayed or canceled.

The survey also asked what impact reductions in benefits and wages had on employee loyalty. Of those who experienced an increase in health insurance costs, the impact on loyalty was evenly split between no change and reduced loyalty. Salary and bonus cancellations and delays had similar impact. Vacation/personal time reductions and 401-K cuts stirred much greater ill will.

Three out of five workers who saw vacation, personal or sick time slashed in the last year indicated they feel less loyal to their employers. Reductions in 401-K contributions were an even more divisive issue, with two-thirds of those experiencing a cut reporting decreased loyalty.

Almost a third of the sample has been laid off at some point in their career. Those people were evenly divided in their responses to the loyalty question.

Three out of five respondents indicated their attitude toward their job or career was unaffected by the events of Sept. 11. VIP Program - learn more!

One in eight said their career had become less of a priority in the wake of the attack. The balance did not respond one way or the other.

Almost everyone had something to say when asked what their employers could do, besides increasing salary, to make them more satisfied. Responses ran the gamut, but two areas that stand out are quality of work/life issues and an occasional atta-boy. Acknowledgement of a job well done, a simple “pat on the back” in recognition of their efforts would increase satisfaction for a large proportion of food professionals. Access to and training in automation technology were the most frequently cited actions that would make them more efficient.

Sidebar: Who Responded to this year's Survey?

A well-heeled sample of food engineers and managers responded toFood Engineering’s annual Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey this year. Almost a quarter—23 percent—of respondents receive six-figure incomes, compared to 16.1 percent last year. Another 35 percent were in the $70,000 to $99,999 annual salary range, up from 24.6 percent. At the other end of the pole, only 5 percent have salaries of less than $40,000.

Questionnaires were mailed to 1,726 Food Engineering readers and a total of 467 usable returns were received. Almost a third were project engineers, engineering managers and vice presidents of engineering. A third were vice presidents of manufacturing, plant managers or other production managers. The balance were presidents/owners, technical directors and other specialists.

The Midwest is the nation’s food processing heartland, and that’s reflected in the sample’s geographic profile: 41.4 percent live in the Midwest, 21.4 percent in the West, 19.8 percent in the South, and 17.4 percent in the Northeast. Respondents are slightly more mobile than in recent years. While the average number of years worked in the food industry is 20.74, years worked for current employer is 11.87, down from 13. Three out of five work at plants with fewer than 250 employees, but 54 percent work for companies with 1,000 or more workers. Women constitute fewer than 10 percent of the respondents.