Grocery Stores Industry

Significant Points

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

Grocery stores are familiar to most people and located throughout the country, although their sizes and range of goods and services often vary. The grocery store industry is made up of two sectors: supermarkets and convenience stores that do not sell gas. Stores in the grocery store industry primarily sell a range of food items, but may also sell some nonfood goods. Businesses that specialize in selling certain types of foods, such as butcher shops or fruit and vegetable markets, are not considered part of this industry. Stores such as supercenters or warehouse clubs, which sell a mixture of food products and more general merchandise, are also not considered grocery stores.

Goods and services. Supermarkets sell a wide range of traditional grocery items, including fresh meats, produce, canned and frozen foods, and dry goods such as flour and sugar. Many also sell a wide assortment of prepared foods, such as hot entrees, salads, and deli sandwiches for takeout. Nonfood items that can be found at larger supermarkets include household goods, health and beauty care items, pet products, and greeting cards. In addition, many grocery stores offer catering services, automated teller machines, pharmacies, postal services, florists, film processing, dry cleaning, and video rentals. Some grocery stores may lease space to banks, coffee shops, and other service providers, but these services are usually not performed by the grocery store.

Convenience stores typically sell a limited line of high-convenience items and food basics, such as milk, bread, beverages, and snacks. Some also offer ready-made sandwiches and other prepared foods for immediate consumption along with an assortment of nonfood items, such as magazines. Most are also open longer hours than a typical supermarket.

Industry organization. In 2008, there were approximately 85,200 grocery stores, of which approximately 25,900 were convenience stores. Although they make up nearly a third of grocery store establishments, convenience stores employ only a few workers per store, accounting for 6 percent of total employment in the grocery store industry. Many convenience stores are independently owned and are often franchises of convenience store chains.

Traditionally, grocery store chains have been based in a particular region of the country. Recently, however, many of these regional chains have been bought out by other chains, and although the names of the chains often remain the same, their administrative offices have been consolidated, resulting in fewer workers in management jobs.

Recent developments. In recent years, grocery store supermarkets have been facing growing competition. More and more time-pressed people are eating out on a regular basis or buying takeout meals. Also, a greater variety of stores are selling groceries, with warehouse clubs and supercenters becoming some of the biggest food sellers. To compete with restaurants, fast food outlets, and club and supercenter stores, grocery stores have been selling more general merchandise items and providing a greater variety of services to cater to the one-stop shopper. They are also selling more prepared foods, deli items, and food to go. Some provide tables for eating in the store.

While some supermarkets have grown and added more floor space and more nonfood items, other supermarkets focus on specific or limited lines of groceries, such as only organic foods, and often cater to particular groups of people. Ethnic grocery stores are some of the fastest growing stores in the country. Providing specialized services and products unique to a particular neighborhood and its shoppers helps these grocers build loyalty and contribute to a sense of community among local residents.

Specialization is also occurring within the stores. Grocery store inventory tracking systems can now quickly let managers know what is selling in their store and what is not. This allows them to adjust their merchandise regularly and focus on the big sellers. They also do not need to keep as large an inventory of items in the store because cash registers linked to the inventory systems can automatically tell managers when something needs to be reordered. New scanning technology is also making it easier for stores to provide self-service checkout. As they compete for food sales, grocery stores are attempting to get better at offering items for purchase that people want and become more efficient at providing them.

Working Conditions[About this section] [To Top]

Hours. Grocery stores are open more hours and days than most work establishments, so, in addition to the traditional day shifts, employees are needed for early morning, late night, weekend, and holiday shifts,. With the average workweek for nonsupervisory workers at 29.4 hours, compared with 33.6 hours for workers in all industries, and 30 percent of employees working a part-time schedule, these jobs are particularly attractive to those looking for work with flexible hours. Part-time schedules predominate for most cashiers and counter service workers, but most managers work full-time schedules and often work longer hours. Typically managers are needed to oversee and train staff on all shifts and may be needed at additional times to fill in during unanticipated busy periods.

Work environment. Most grocery store employees work in a clean, well-lighted, and climate-controlled environment. However, work at times can become hectic, and dealing with customers can be stressful.

Most grocery store workers wear some sort of uniform, such as a jacket, shirt, or apron that identifies them as store employees and keeps their personal clothing clean. Health and safety regulations require employees who handle fresh food items—such as those who work in the prepared foods, delicatessen, or meat departments—to wear head coverings, safety glasses, or gloves. Some States require health certification for employees who handle food.

Employment[To Top]

Grocery stores ranked among the largest industries in 2008, providing 2.5 million wage-and-salary jobs. Most grocery stores are small, with 80 percent employing fewer than 50 workers. Most jobs, however, are found in the largest stores.

Young workers between the ages of 16 and 24 held 29 percent of grocery store jobs (table 1). This reflects the large number of jobs in this industry open to young workers who have little or no work experience.

Table 1. Percent distribution of employment, by age group, 2008
Age group Grocery stores All industries
Total 100.0% 100.0%
16-19 15.9 3.8
20-24 13.5 9.4
25-34 18.4 21.6
35-44 18.5 23.0
45-54 19.9 23.8
55-64 9.9 14.3
65 and older 3.8 4.1

Occupations in the Industry[To Top]

Fifty-one percent of all grocery store employees are cashiers or stock clerks and order fillers. Others in the industry prepare food, assist customers, dispense medications, and provide management and support services to the establishment.

Sales and related workers. Cashiers make up the largest occupation in grocery stores, accounting for 34 percent of all workers (table 2). They scan the items being purchased by customers into the cash register or read hand-stamped prices and total the amount due. They accept payment consisting of cash, credit or debit cards, and checks, and make change. They then produce a cash register receipt that shows the quantity and price of the items purchased. Cashiers usually place items in bags or give them to baggers to load. When cashiers are not needed to check out customers, they sometimes assist other workers. In grocery stores with separate self-checkout lanes, cashiers verify that the items have been paid for before the customer leaves the store, and if needed, assist the customer in completing the transaction.

First-line managers of retail sales workers supervise the employees in the different specialty departments, such as produce, meat, and bakery. 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. Demonstrators and product promoters offer samples of various products to entice customers to purchase them.

Office and administrative support occupations. Stock clerks and order fillers are the second largest occupation in grocery stores, comprising 17 percent of workers. They fill 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 general office clerks and bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks—prepare and maintain the records necessary to keep grocery stores running smoothly.

Food preparation and production occupations. 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 and ready-to-cook foods by filleting or cutting meat, poultry, or fish into bite-sized pieces, preparing and adding vegetables, and applying sauces, marinades, or breading.

Bakers produce breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. Cooks and food preparation workers make salads and entrees. They also may prepare ready-to-heat foods for sale in the delicatessen, gourmet food or prepared food departments. Other food preparation workers arrange party platters or prepare various food selections that are sold at the salad bar.

In supermarkets that serve food and beverages for consumption on the premises, food and beverage serving workers, including fast food workers and counter workers, take orders and serve customers. They may prepare short-order items, such as salads or sandwiches, to be taken out and consumed elsewhere or eaten on the premises in a designated seating area.

Transportation and material moving occupations. 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 merchandise to shelves.

Management occupations. General and operations managers are responsible for the efficient and profitable operation of grocery stores. Often called store managers or department managers, they 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. A new type of manager in grocery stores is the category manager. Similar to a purchasing manager, they specialize in a particular category of goods, such as snack food. These managers must thoroughly understand consumer preferences for the specific category of items, package sizes, and marketing strategies, and are responsible for ordering the correct amount in the correct package. Category managers evaluate their store's sales and inventory reports to determine product demand, sales trends, and profitability. They also consider comments from department managers and customers to adjust future orders, change product displays, and plan budgets. Marketing and sales managers forecast sales and develop a marketing plan based on demographic trends, sales data, community needs, and consumer feedback.

Other occupations. Grocery stores employ a number of workers in other occupations to help meet customer service needs. For example, pharmacists fill customers' drug prescriptions and advise them on over-the-counter medicines. Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in filling orders. Human resources, training, and labor relations specialists recruit and screen prospective employees and are responsible for making sure that employees maintain and, if necessary, improve their skill levels. Building cleaning workers keep the stores clean and orderly.

Occupation Employment, 2008 Percent Change,
Number Percent
All occupations 2,497.3 100.0 0.5
Management, business, and financial occupations 50.4 2.0 -4.8
  Top executives 28.8 1.2 -9.6
Service occupations 324.0 13.0 7.2
  First-line supervisors/managers of food preparation and serving workers 24.6 1.0 10.5
  Food preparation workers 130.4 5.2 10.5
  Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 98.0 3.9 10.5
Sales and related occupations 1,044.5 41.8 0.3
  First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers 122.5 4.9 0.2
  Cashiers, except gaming 850.0 34.0 0.2
  Retail salespersons 48.2 1.9 5.5
Office and administrative support occupations 597.6 23.9 0.2
  First-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers 29.9 1.2 0.2
  Customer service representatives 65.8 2.6 10.2
  Stock clerks and order fillers 418.6 16.8 0.2
Production occupations 188.4 7.5 1.9
  Bakers 41.3 1.7 0.2
  Butchers and meat cutters 88.6 3.6 0.2
  Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers 24.8 1.0 10.5
Transportation and material moving occupations 232.0 9.3 -9.1
  Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 38.8 1.6 -9.8
  Packers and packagers, hand 178.1 7.1 -9.8
NOTE: Columns may not add to total due to omission of occupations with small employment.

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

Grocery stores provide many young people with their first work experience. Training for the most numerous occupations—cashiers, stock clerks and order fillers, and food preparation workers—usually is short term and provided on the job. Longer-term training or related work experience is required for management positions and many specialty occupations, such as butcher.

Cashiers and stock clerks and order fillers. A high school diploma is generally all that is needed to become a cashier. In large supermarket chains, prospective employees are matched with available jobs, hours, and locations and are usually trained in the store. Cashiers are often trained in a few days, and many larger retailers offer formal web-based or computer-based classroom training to familiarize workers with company guidelines and the equipment with which they will work. Some cashiers may receive additional in-house training to supervise multiple self-checkout stations and oversee their smooth operation and provide customer service.

Stock clerks and order fillers generally learn the store layout and inventory system while on the job. They must become knowledgeable of the store's stock and the proper storage location and temperature conditions for each item. Stock clerks and order fillers also are trained to read purchase orders and temperature gauges and to maintain inventory records to reflect the movement of items from the delivery trucks to back-room storage to the sales floor. They also are responsible for replenishing the stock of items on the store shelves as they empty.

Courtesy clerks or baggers also receive short-term on-the-job training to learn store layout, product locations, and company procedures. They also are provided guidance on how to bag groceries securely to avoid damaging goods. Courtesy clerks and baggers may learn to run a register and help out at the customer service desk answering questions from customers.

Grocery store jobs require that workers be in good physical condition and have a neat appearance and a pleasant, business-like manner because most workers are on the sales floor constantly dealing with the public. Cashiers, stock clerks, and order fillers must be able to do repetitious work swiftly and accurately. Cashiers need basic arithmetic skills, good hand-eye coordination, and manual dexterity. Stock clerks and order fillers must especially be in good physical condition because they do a lot of lifting, crouching, and climbing.

Food preparation and processing occupations. Butchers and other meat-, poultry-, and fish-processing workers, bakers, and food preparation workers must receive training in sanitation and safe food handling practices before they are allowed to handle food for resale. Many States require workers to obtain certification for completing training on State health code requirements for safely handling food. Food preparation workers generally learn simple knife skills, proper food storage and serving procedures, and how to follow straightforward recipes while on the job. More complex food processing and preparation skills may be acquired through training courses provided by trade schools and industry associations. As workers acquire more skills, they may advance to performing more difficult tasks, such as preparing custom cuts of meat or preparing more complex dishes, or to training and supervising lesser skilled employees.

Management occupations. 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 sophisticated software to manage budgets, schedule work, track and order products, set prices, control inventory, manage shelf space, and assess product profitability. Although experience in retail sales, particularly at a grocery store, is the primary attribute sought for management jobs, companies are hiring more workers with a bachelor's degree or some college training for 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 or design, as well as graduates of bachelor's or master's degree programs in business administration. Many supermarket chains start these graduates in management training programs working various professional positions in areas such as logistics, supply chain management, marketing, inventory management and stock replenishment, food safety, human resources, and strategic planning. Management trainees often 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.

Entry-level workers may advance to management positions, depending on experience and performance. Stores that promote from within have established tracks by which employees move from department to department, gaining broad experience, until they are considered ready for entry-level management positions. Opportunities for advancement to management jobs exist in both large supermarket chains and in small, independent grocery stores. For managers, good communication skills, initiative, leadership ability, and attention to detail are important, as well as the ability to solve problems quickly and to perform well under pressure. Managers also need good business, marketing, and inventory management skills.

Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Because of the relatively high turnover in this industry, numerous job opportunities will be available for first-time job seekers, people with limited job skills, and those seeking part-time or alternative work schedules. Specialty occupations and managers require higher skill levels and more training or experience.

Employment change. The number of wage and salary jobs in grocery stores is expected to experience little or no growth over the 2008-18 period, compared to 11 percent growth projected for all industries combined. Competition from restaurants and other eating places, and from supercenters and warehouse clubs, will cause some grocery stores to close and others to get bigger or specialize in order to compete. The consolidation of smaller establishments into larger stores is expected to make the industry more streamlined. Similarly, advances in technology, including inventory management, will make existing workers more productive and reduce the need for new employees. Conversely, many smaller grocery stores are choosing to sell a narrower range of grocery products, often specializing in products or services to fit a specific clientele or particular store category, such as organic foods.

At the same time, consumer demand for more diversified food tastes and shopping convenience—including one-stop shopping—is driving grocery stores to increase product variety and expand the number of sales departments and consumer services. This restructuring of the retail food business requires a broader range of workers to staff newer departments, such as the prepared food and fresh fish departments and deli counters that make sandwiches to go. More stores are expected to develop a niche for being a source for particular items and gain a competitive edge by selling them. The mix of workers within the store will adjust as a result to reflect consumer buying habits and the changing product focus.

Employment of those in specialty food processing, preparation, and serving occupations—bakers, food preparation workers, and fast food and counter workers—is expected to grow faster than the industry average because of the growing popularity of purchasing freshly baked breads and pastries and other prepared meals for both re-heating at home and for consumption on the premises.

Little to no change is expected in employment of cashiers and other front-end occupations. Online grocery shopping and use of self-checkout registers will cause some lessening in demand for cashiers, but shoppers continue to want the personal service provided by cashiers, baggers, and courtesy clerks and to be able to judge the quality of fresh grocery items for themselves.

Job prospects. Job opportunities in grocery stores should be plentiful because of the relatively short tenure of the many young and part-time employees in the workforce. Many will need to be replaced when they leave to find new jobs, seek full-time employment, return to school, or stop working. The greatest numbers of job openings will be in the largest occupations: cashiers and stock clerks and order fillers. These jobs generally have high replacement needs.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Industry earnings. 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 2008, nonsupervisory workers in grocery stores averaged $340 a week, compared with $608 a week for all workers in the private sector. Wages in selected occupations in grocery stores appear in table 3.

Table 3. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in grocery stores, May 2008
Occupation Grocery stores All industries
First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers $16.90 $16.97
Butchers and meat cutters 13.98 13.60
Bakers 11.39 11.20
Retail salespersons 9.97 9.86
Customer service representatives 9.45 14.36
Food preparation workers 9.41 8.96
Stock clerks and order fillers 9.38 10.00
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 9.23 7.90
Cashiers 8.59 8.49
Packers and packagers, hand 8.00 9.16

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.

Benefits and union membership. Full-time workers generally receive typical benefits, such as paid vacations, sick leave, and health and life insurance. Workers who are not unionized may receive few benefits. Grocery store employees may receive a discount on purchases.

Twenty-two percent of all employees in grocery stores belong to a union or are covered by union contracts, compared with 14 percent in all industries. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is the primary union representing grocery store workers. Workers in chain stores are more likely to be unionized or covered by contracts than 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.

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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