IPA Provides Useful Information about the Grocery Stores Industry
- Numerous job openings—many of them part time and relatively low paying—should be available due to the industry’s
large size and high rate of turnover.
- Many grocery store workers are young, with persons 16 to 24 years old holding 30 percent of the jobs.
- Cashiers and stock clerks and order fillers account for nearly one-half of all jobs.
- College graduates will fill most new management positions.
NATURE OF THE INDUSTRY
Grocery stores, also known as supermarkets, are familiar to everyone. They sell an array of fresh and preserved
foods, primarily for preparation and consumption at home. They also often sell prepared food, such as hot entrees
or salads, for takeout meals. Stores range in size from supermarkets, which may employ hundreds of workers and
sell numerous food and nonfood items, to convenience stores with small staffs and limited selections. However,
convenience stores often sell fuel, including gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and propane. Recently, many
convenience stores have expanded their scope of services by providing automatic teller machines, money orders
and a more comprehensive selection of food and nonfood products.
Grocery stores are found everywhere, although the size of the establishment and the range of goods and services
offered vary. Traditionally, inner-city stores are small and offer a limited selection, although larger stores
are now being built in many urban areas; suburban stores tend to be large supermarkets with a more diverse stock.
Many supermarkets include several specialty departments that offer the products and services of seafood stores,
bakeries, delicatessens, pharmacies or florist shops. Household goods, health and beauty care items, automotive
supplies, pet products, greeting cards and clothing also are among the growing range of nonfood items sold. Some
of the largest supermarkets even house cafeterias or food courts, and a few feature convenience stores. In addition,
grocery stores may offer basic banking services and automatic teller machines, postal services, onsite film
processing, drycleaning; video rentals and catering services.
Working conditions in most grocery stores are pleasant, with clean, well-lit, climate-controlled surroundings.
Work can be hectic and dealing with customers can be stressful.
Grocery stores are open more hours and days than most work establishments, so workers are needed for early
morning, late night, weekend and holiday work. With employees working 30 hours a week, on average, these jobs
are particularly attractive to workers who have family or school responsibilities or another job.
Most grocery store workers wear some sort of clothing, such as a jacket or apron, that identifies them as store
employees and keeps their personal clothing clean. Health and safety regulations require some workers, such as
those who work in the delicatessen or meat department, to wear head coverings, safety glasses or gloves.
In 2002, cases of work-related injury and illness averaged 7.3 per 100 full-time workers in grocery stores, compared
with 5.3 per 100 full-time workers in the entire private sector. Some injuries occur while workers transport or stock
goods. Persons in food processing occupations, such as butchers and meatcutters, as well as cashiers working with
computer scanners or traditional cash registers, may be vulnerable to cumulative trauma and other repetitive motion
Grocery stores ranked among the largest industries in 2002, providing 2.5 million wage and salary jobs. About
30 percent of all grocery store employees worked part time, and the average workweek of non-supervisory workers
was 30 hours. Some self-employed workers also worked in grocery stores, mostly in smaller establishments.
In 2002, there were about 86,000 grocery stores throughout the Nation. Most grocery stores are small; about two-
thirds employ fewer than 20 workers. Most jobs, however, are found in the largest stores. About three-quarters of
workers were employed in grocery stores with more than 50 workers.
Many grocery store workers are young, with persons 16 to 24 years old holding 30 percent of the jobs. This reflects
the large number of jobs in this industry open to young workers who have little or no work experience.
OCCUPATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY
Grocery store workers stock shelves on the sales floor; prepare food and other goods; assist customers in locating,
purchasing, and understanding the content and uses of various items; and provide support services to the establishment.
If the store is part of a chain, many important tasks—such as marketing and promotion, inventory control and management,
and financing—are done at a centralized corporate headquarters. However, 49 percent of all grocery store employees are
cashiers or stock clerks and order fillers.
Cashiers make up the largest occupation in grocery stores, accounting for about one-third of all workers. They
scan the items being purchased by customers, total the amount due, accept payment, make change, fill out charge
forms and produce a cash register receipt that shows the quantity and price of the items. In most supermarkets,
the cashier passes the Universal Product Code on the item’s label across a computer scanner that identifies the
item and its price, which is automatically relayed to the cash register. In some grocery stores, customers
themselves scan and bag their purchases and pay using an automatic payment terminal, a system known as self-
checkout. Cashiers verify that the items have been paid for before the customer leaves. In other grocery stores,
the cashier reads a hand-stamped price on the item and keys that price directly into the cash register. Cashiers
then place items in bags for customers; accept cash, personal check, credit card, or electronic debit card payments;
and make change. When cashiers are not needed to check out customers, they sometimes assist other workers.
Stock clerks and order fillers are the second largest occupation in grocery stores, accounting for 17 percent of
workers. They fill the shelves with merchandise and arrange displays to attract customers. In stores without
computer scanning equipment, stock clerks and order fillers may have to manually mark prices on individual items
and count stock for inventory control.
Many office clerical workers—such as secretaries and administrative assistants; general office clerks
and bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks—prepare and maintain the records necessary to keep
grocery stores running smoothly.
Butchers and other meat, poultry, and fish processing workers prepare meat, poultry and fish for
purchase by cutting up and trimming carcasses and large sections into smaller pieces, which they package, weigh,
price and place on display. They also prepare ground meat from other cuts and fill customers’ special orders.
These workers also may prepare ready-to-heat foods by filleting or cutting meat, poultry, or fish into bite-sized
pieces, preparing and adding vegetables or applying sauces or breading. Butchers and other meat, poultry and fish
processing workers often work from a central facility, from which smaller packages are sent to area stores.
Some specialty workers prepare food for sale in the grocery store and work in kitchens that may not be located in
the store. Bakers produce breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. Chefs and head
cooks direct the preparation, seasoning, and cooking of salads, soups, fish, meats, vegetables, desserts
or other foods. Some plan and price menu items, order supplies, and keep records and accounts. Cooks and food
preparation workers make salads—such as coleslaw or potato, macaroni or chicken salad—and other entrees, and
prepare ready-to-heat foods—such as burritos, marinated chicken breasts, or chicken stir-fry—for sale in the delicatessen
or in the gourmet food or meat department. Other food preparation workers arrange party platters or prepare various
vegetables and fruits that are sold at the salad bar.
Demonstrators and product promoters may offer samples of various products to entice customers to
In supermarkets that serve food and beverages for consumption on the premises, food and beverage serving
workers take orders and serve customers at counters. They may prepare short-order items, such as salads or
sandwiches, to be taken out and consumed elsewhere. Building cleaning workers keep the stores clean and
In the warehouses and stockrooms of large supermarkets, hand laborers and freight, stock, and material
movers move stock and goods in storage and deliver them to the sales floor; they also help load and unload
delivery trucks. Hand packers and packagers, also known as courtesy clerks or baggers, perform a variety of
simple tasks, such as bagging groceries, loading parcels in customers’ cars and returning abandoned merchandise from
the checkout counter to shelves.
First-line managers of retail sales workers supervise mostly entry-level employees at the grocery, produce,
meat and other specialty departments. These managers train employees and schedule their hours; oversee ordering,
inspection, pricing and inventory of goods; monitor sales activity; and make reports to store managers. General and
operations managers are responsible for the efficient and profitable operation of grocery stores. Working through
their department managers, general and operations managers may set store policy, hire and train employees, develop
merchandising plans, maintain good customer and community relations, address customer complaints and monitor the
store’s profits or losses.
Purchasing managers plan and direct the task of purchasing goods for resale to consumers. Purchasing
managers must thoroughly understand grocery store foods, other items and each store’s customers. They must select
the best suppliers and maintain good relationships with them. Purchasing managers evaluate their store’s sales
reports to determine what products are in demand and plan purchases according to their budget.
Because of the expansion of the industry to meet the consumers’ desire for "one-stop shopping," grocery
stores have begun to employ an array of workers to help meet that need. For example, marketing and sales
managers forecast sales and develop a marketing plan based on demographic trends, sales data, community
needs, and consumer feedback. Pharmacists fill customers’ drug prescriptions and advise them on
over-the-counter medicines. Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers assess whether
products and facilities meet quality, health, and safety standards. Human resources, training and labor
relations specialists are responsible for making sure that employees maintain and, if necessary, improve
their skill levels.
TRAINING AND ADVANCEMENT
Most grocery store jobs are entry-level and can be learned in a short time. Employers generally prefer high
school graduates for occupations such as cashier, stock clerk and order filler, or food preparation workers.
In large supermarket chains, prospective employees are matched with available jobs, hours, and locations and
are sent to a specific store for on-the-job training. Many cashiers are trained in a few days, with some stores
offering formal classroom training to familiarize workers with the equipment with which they will work.
Meatcutters and bakers are more skilled. Trade schools and industry associations offer training for these jobs,
but the skills also can be learned on the job.
College graduates will fill most new management positions. Employers increasingly seek graduates of college
and university, junior and community college and technical institute programs in food marketing, food management,
and supermarket management. Many supermarket chains place graduates of these programs, or of bachelor’s or master’s
degree programs in business administration, in various professional positions or management training programs in
areas such as logistics, supply chain, marketing, replenishment, food safety, human resources and strategic planning.
Management trainees start as assistant or department managers and, depending on experience and performance, may
advance to positions of greater responsibility. It is not unusual for managers to supervise a large number of
employees early in their careers.
Courtesy clerks sometimes advance to work as service clerks in the delicatessen or bakery, stock clerks and order
fillers, or perhaps cashiers. Sometimes, workers rotate assignments in a supermarket; for example, a cashier might
occasionally wrap meat. Union contracts, however, may have strict occupational definitions in some stores, making
movement among departments difficult.
Entry-level workers may advance to management positions, depending on experience and performance. Grocery store
management has become increasingly complex and technical. Managers of some large supermarkets are responsible for
millions of dollars in yearly revenue and for hundreds of employees. They use computers to manage budgets, schedule
work, track and order products, price goods, manage shelf space, and assess product profitability. Many stores that
promote from within have established tracks by which workers move from department to department, gaining broad
experience, until they are considered ready for an entry-level management position. Opportunities for advancement to
management jobs exist in both large supermarket chains and in small, independent grocery stores.
Grocery store jobs call for various personal attributes. Almost all workers must be in good physical condition.
Because managers, cashiers, stock clerks and order fillers, and other workers on the sales floor constantly deal with
the public, a neat appearance and a pleasant, businesslike manner are important. Cashiers and stock clerks and order
fillers must be able to do repetitious work accurately while under pressure. Cashiers need basic arithmetic skills, good
hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Stock clerks and order fillers, especially, must be in good physical
condition because of the lifting, crouching and climbing that they do. For managers, good communication skills and the
ability to solve problems quickly, and to perform well under pressure are important. In addition, personal qualities
such as initiative, the ability to focus on detail and leadership ability are essential for managers.
Average weekly earnings in grocery stores are considerably lower than the average for all industries, reflecting the
large proportion of entry-level, part-time jobs. In 2002, non-supervisory workers in grocery stores averaged $335 a
week, compared with $506 a week for all workers in the private sector.
Managers receive a salary, and often a bonus based on store or department performance. Managers in highly profitable
stores generally earn more than those in less profitable stores.
Full-time workers generally receive typical benefits, such as paid vacations, sick leave, and health and life insurance.
Part-time workers who are not unionized may receive few benefits. Unionized part-time workers sometimes receive partial
benefits. Grocery store employees may receive a discount on purchases.
About 22 percent of all employees in grocery stores belong to a union or are covered by union contracts, compared with
about 15 percent in all industries. Workers in chain stores are more likely to be unionized or covered by contracts than
are workers in independent grocery stores. In independent stores, wages often are determined by job title, and increases
are tied to length of job service and to job performance. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is
the primary union representing grocery store workers.
Employment in grocery stores is expected to increase about 5 percent by the year 2012, compared with the 16-percent
growth projected for all industries combined. Many additional job openings will arise from the need to replace workers
who transfer to jobs in other industries, retire, or stop working for other reasons. Replacement needs are particularly
significant due to the industry’s large size and the high rate of turnover among cashiers and other workers who do not
choose to pursue grocery industry careers.
Employment will grow as the population increases and as more grocery stores offer a wider array of goods and services
that include prescription drugs, dry cleaning, film developing, flowers, liquor, and carryout food, as well as banking,
postal, and catering services. Grocery stores are adding and enhancing delicatessens, bakeries, and meat and seafood
departments to counter the trend toward eating away from home, as well as adding ready-to-eat-meals to compete with fast-
food restaurants. The trend toward opening "supercenters" where a myriad of products and services are available
at a single location, is increasingly popular. These expansions are expected to create many new jobs.
Some technological advances—such as computer scanning cash registers and automated warehouse equipment—have boosted
productivity, but these innovations are not expected to adversely affect employment levels. In fact, past technological
improvements like scanners and electronic data interchange are expected to improve opportunities in areas such as
category management and distribution. Increasing competition from large discount department stores will encourage the
industry to continue to improve its efficiency by adopting new technologies and procedures and by eliminating redundancies,
especially in the supply chains. Increasingly, many stores let customers process their own transactions with almost no
interaction with a cashier. The growing use of self-checkout machines at grocery stores may have a slightly adverse effect
on employment of cashiers. This trend, however, will depend largely on the public’s acceptance of automated checkouts. On
the other hand, many other tasks, such as stocking shelves on the sales floor or helping a customer find a product, cannot
be performed effectively by machines. In addition, many consumers have demonstrated their strong desire for personal
services. For example, consumers want managers to answer questions about store policy and services; they want cashiers and
courtesy clerks to answer questions, bag goods, or help them bring groceries to their cars; and they want workers in specialty
departments to advise them on their purchases and fill personal orders by providing special cuts of meat, fish or poultry.
Projected growth for some grocery store occupations differs from the 5-percent growth projected for the industry as a
whole. For example, employment of bakers and food preparation and serving related occupations is expected to grow faster
than the industry because of the popularity of freshly baked breads and pastries, carryout food and catering services. On
the other hand, employment of butchers and other meat, poultry and fish processing workers is expected to grow more slowly
than the industry as more meatcutting, processing and packaging shifts from the retail store to the manufacturing plant.
Electronic shopping currently is gaining in popularity across the country. Its impact on industry employment could be
significant within the near future, depending on how fast consumers adopt the new technology. Growth of online grocery
shopping, however, may be tempered by several factors, including logistical complications, particularly in rural areas
and the expense of delivering perishable goods in a timely manner.
Unlike many other industries, the grocery industry is not highly sensitive to changes in economic conditions. Even during
periods of recession, demand for food is likely to remain relatively stable.
Industry data is republished with permission by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.