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The top paying positions in US food production

July 3, 2024
Lukas Vanterpool

Positions within the food and beverage industry … how many can you think of … GO!

Whatever list has just reeled off, you can bet that there are many more besides. From processing and manufacturing, sales and delivery to food science and management, the list goes on and on. If you are looking to further a career within the food and beverage sector, don’t just think about what you already know and your current job title … consider how you want to progress, the ideal role and how much you want to make.

Most recent statistics show that the US employs more than 1.6 million people in food and beverage manufacturing alone:

  • 1,593,000 people employed in food manufacturing
  • 93,440 people employed in beverage manufacturing
  • 35,026 establishments for food manufacturing
  • 13,377 establishments for beverage manufacturing

However, despite these numbers, it isn’t rocket science to suggest that the more senior the role, the better the salary.  There may be many other perks associated with the position, including sales performance bonuses or profit shares, generous car allowance or company car, private health insurance or access to a wellness program.

Let’s take a look at some of the more senior positions and what you can expect to earn.

Points of entry into the food industry

As with any industry, having the correct qualifications or degree (either from college, business school or university) will of course help you to get noticed; along with previous experience or other positions held within your chosen field.

And when it comes to sending your resume and/or applying for your dream role – whether your first within the industry or a step up the ladder – know your worth.

Here’s where food and beverage manufacturing recruitment agencies can help with your self-promotion.

Things to highlight:

  1. Do you have any particular skills or expertise you can bring to the company?
  2. What are your own personal strengths as a communicator, professional or leader?
  3. Consider your monetary goals or other needs before accepting the offer.


So, what are the top-paying positions?

As we mentioned at the start, there are countless and varied jobs within the food and beverage industry; all requiring their own brand of expertise and focus. The food industry includes agriculture, manufacturing, food processing, wholesale, food distribution, retail and more. Each hold their place in a food supply chain that serves virtually every person in America.

According to figures from The Content Marketing Trend Study 2019, in 2018, retail and food services were estimated to hold total sales of $6.02 trillion.

Competition within the retail sector exists between the grocery industry (fresh foods) and food service industry (prepared foods). Careers include agricultural science technicians, food technologists, research chefs and more.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , here’s a look at several careers within the industry in 2020 with a salary greater than $50,000.  All vary greatly in job duties, but all involve food in some way.

Job Title Median Salary (2020)* Job Growth (2019-2029)*
Dietitians and Nutritionists $63,090 8%
Food Scientists and Technologists $73,450 4%
Soil and Plant Scientists $66,120 7%
Farmers, Ranchers and Other Agricultural Managers $68,090 -6%
Food Service Managers $56,590 1%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Let’s take a look at look at some of the wide and varied higher-paid roles

Whether it’s food manufacturing or production or sales and delivery, there is an absolute feast of roles that can be personally – and financially – satisfying and rewarding.


Food Service Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed food service managers had a median salary of $56,690 in 2020.

These are demanding roles, which require a wide variety of skills as well as an element of customer interaction – and not always billed as a pleasant exchange!

Professionals in this role can expect to manage the daily activities of a restaurant or other eating establishments that serve food and drinks to customers.

They may oversee the food preparation and make sure that the presentation of food is appealing while ensuring that all food safety standards are met. The role is likely to include the supervision of other employees along with managing budgets and dealing with any customer complaints.  And if the world (or the USA) is your oyster when it comes to location – check out this 2020 survey of the best states to work as a food and beverage manager!


Soil and Plant Scientists

The BLS recorded soil and plant scientists as making a median salary of $66,120 in 2020, and these scientists work with food and crop developers to improve crops.

Soil scientists focus on studying soil composition and how its makeup affects crop growth and productivity. Plant scientists examine various ways to improve crop yield, such as controlling weeds or pests. Similar to food scientists and technologists, these scientists must have at least a bachelor’s degree but are likely to pursue an advanced degree.

Food Scientists and Technologists

Food scientists and technologists specialize in studying the elements of food and made a median salary of $73,450 in 2020, according to the BLS. They study food using biology and chemistry, look for new food sources and figure out ways to improve processed foods.

These professionals aim to make food safer and healthier for consumers and may also inspect food-processing areas to ensure compliance with all government regulations. Many food scientists and technologists hold an advanced degree but must have at least a bachelor’s degree.


Dietitians and Nutritionists

With food, nutrition and healthy eating still very much on the mind of Americans (refer to our December blog on what US grocery shoppers spent their cash on in 2021), there is very much a demand for the expertise of dieticians and nutritionists.

These professionals work with clients to discuss food and nutrition to promote healthy lifestyles and were reported to make a median annual salary of $63,090 in 2020, per the BLS. Assessing the nutritional needs of the client will normally be followed by the creation of individual meal plans to help manage disease and of course promote healthy eating – alongside a very large helping of educational material surrounding the very broad subject of diet and nutrition.

These professionals usually need a license and must complete an internship along with their bachelor’s degree in the field.


Catering sales

This is the perfect job for someone who can combine the skill of selling with the advantages of being a ‘people-person’. Yes, the role comes with a big responsibility, but the financial rewards are there to be reaped also.

In this role, professionals are expected to develop a hotel or hospitality company’s client lists through outreach, prospecting, using referrals and relationship building at industry and networking events. There is of course more profit to be made in bigger conventions or larger groups of customers; where the customer journey can involve all elements from check-in, breakfast, lunch, dinner to meetings, functions or evening ceremonies.

It is a tough gig with long hours, but if the conference brings in $2 million, the catering sales manager could make 2-3% on that, above the already great salary they have.


Executive chef

Move over Chef Ramsey – anyone with this post is confident taking the reigns and acting as the master of their kitchen. But as the saying goes, with huge power comes great responsibility – and long, long hours.

For those who are dedicated to their craft, passionate about quality and excellent service delivery and get a buzz from brand creation, there is no better or rewarding role. This role will undoubtedly be filled by someone who is both creative and business-minded, and prepared to work evenings, weekends and holidays.

Climbing to the high-ranking Executive Chef spot requires not only proven expertise as a chef, cook, or catering manager, but managerial skills, too, as you will likely interview, hire, train, lead and supervise a team of chefs, sous chefs, line cooks and kitchen workers in this role.

Duties like preparing menus, setting prices and, reviewing food and beverage purchases, are a key part of this job, as are quality assurance and financial management. Credentials such as culinary arts diplomas, and undergraduate degrees are advantageous.


 Food service director

In addition to being responsible for the proper and efficient service of food and drink, this role requires the holder to also be responsible for food service-related business and personnel management, including supervising, coordinating, and directing the work duties of all food service personnel.

The role is far-reaching, and FSDs could also be expected to assist in many other elements of the business in which they work; ranging from the hiring and promotion and dismissal of staff to meeting budgets and following the proper storage and preparation techniques to ensure the high quality of food until it reaches the consumer.

Day to day planning and implementing of menus and maintaining the highest standards of hygiene will also be on their list of duties and responsibilities; and similar to their food director managerial counterparts, dealing with the public, problem-solving, customer service and organisational skills should all feature on the menu of ‘can do’s’.

Education requirements for this job may include a bachelor’s degree in a field such as dietetics, nutrition, culinary arts, hospitality, or business. A master’s degree may be preferred as well. Figures suggest that food service directors earn an average salary of $61,395 per year, which equates to $29.52 an hour.

As much of the country gets back to dining out, socializing and enjoying the U.S hospitality industry, let’s not forget about the many professionals who are working on new food growth and innovation – and of course all those many valuable senior positions in between. We know that there are many roles that will put you at the top of the food chain financially, so come and talk to us about how we can help you on your career path in 2022.

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About The Author

Lukas Vanterpool

I started The Sterling Choice with Gareth Whyatt back in August 2013. We’ve always remained true to ourselves and what it is we’re trying to achieve – A great company with great people and great results! This journey never stops, we are always finding ways to support our colleagues and make sure they leave every day feeling fulfilled.

Over the years I’ve always been asked “what’s your USP??, what makes you different from all the other agencies??”. That’s an easy one for me to answer – “Our culture makes our business and our people make our culture”

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