Food manufacturers produce a wide range of edible goods to sell to retailers, wholesalers and private businesses.
Being a food manufacturer involves a number of activities, centred primarily round the production and sale of food. Common tasks would include:
- Overseeing food production in large or industrial kitchens
- Delivering food to different outlets
- Perfecting recipes and designing new food products and packaging
- Receiving and maintaining stock orders
- Liaising with clients on regular requirements
- Expanding a client base by making sales trips
- Handling staff contracts
- Managing business accounts
Food manufacture is a very broad business, with the potential for very large-scale operations and large amounts of revenue. However, there is also no fixed salary structure as each business is different in terms of products and sales.
In general, the profit margins for most food items will be small, but the potential for volume of sales is very large, so the focus of most businesses will be to increase demand and grow the business by widening the client base, increasing production in step with sales.
The head of a successful manufacturing operation could easily earn over £100k, whilst a small producer might hope to make over £20k, although many businesses in the food industry fail or do not show a profit for a number of years.
Food producers are responsible for making and delivering a consistent product that can be delivered on time. Many different trade and business services rely on them to provide their goods and will expect a reliable stream of products which they can sell on at a profit. In turn, consumers rely on the products to eat and enjoy and expect them to fulfil their expectations in terms of quality and safety.
It is possible to become a food manufacturer without specific formal qualifications, and experience in the food industry, working in catering, restaurants and other food production roles may be of more use in the long run. However, some formal knowledge of food practices and hygiene may be of use, and, in addition, most manufacturers are self-employed so some kind of accounting or business management qualification might also be of use.
Being a food manufacturer involves a range of skills, including:
- An affinity with food, flavours and tastes
- A good sense of business acumen and awareness of food costs
- The ability to operate large-scale kitchen operations
- Self-discipline and the motivation to work independently
- Good sales ability and marketing instinct
Some work in food manufacturing may be conducted in large kitchens, which can be hot or cramped but are not generally dangerous. Other work may be conducted in offices and private or business locations which will be more comfortable. The job may also involve lots of travel, usually by train or car, as trips will need to be made when selling or delivering products to clients.
Experience is important for food manufacturers because it involves a number of skills which are difficult to acquire without practical insight. Even with a good knowledge of food and cooking, making the step up to large scale production is very different. In addition, having business sense alone will not be enough. What is ideally needed is experience of food production and business management. This could be achieved in a hotel or restaurant, in a catering operation, or even in a large food wholesaler. This experience would provide a grounding in the production techniques and use of equipment as well as giving an insight into costing and profit margins.
Food manufacturing businesses are run as private businesses and there are few national employers. Some of the larger operations take on people as low-level or management staff, but this depends on the food being produced and where it is being sold as many operations work on a regional basis.
As self-employed business people, the aim of most food manufacturers will be to grow their business by expanding their order book and therefore increasing their turnover and profit. This can be achieved by expanding the range of food products they offer and selling to new and bigger clients. As the business expands new challenges will arise, such as keeping quality consistent and protecting against rivalry and competition.
Also known as…
- Food wholesaler
- Head Chef
What’s it really like?
Tom, 27, is the joint head of the award-winning company Toms Pies, supplying pies and other quality English produce to a range of pubs, restaurants and hotels. They work in Bristol, the South West and London.
How long have you been working as a food manufacturer?
For two years. After finishing at Bristol University I was keen to establish a business in the city and a friend of mine was running a catering business. Part of that business was a large kitchen producing gourmet pies, tarts and cakes and we spoke about opening a retail outlet to sell the products in Bristol and then went in to business, opening a shop last year. However, the credit crunch and the nature of the premises meant it was not very profitable and so we decided to close and concentrate on the trade sales side of the business, which had been growing steadily.
Now, my partner takes care of the production aspect and I concentrate on sales, although we meet often to discuss the products, contracts and so on. Our latest success has been a contract with a large multi-national hotel chain, which we are very pleased with. Our emphasis is on good, simple food using natural, seasonal ingredients, which is what people are increasingly wanting.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
My working days are always pretty varied. As I am focused mainly on pushing sales forward I try and balance my time between getting out to go and meet prospective customers and following up leads either in person or on the phone. I call into gastro pubs, delis, restaurants and hotels and am always looking out for potential outlets; it’s surprising how many opportunities there are out there, largely because of the sheer volume of eateries. Sometimes I get bogged down in the admin side of the business and find it hard to escape (from home and the office). I also currently do the deliveries twice a week in our van which is quite time consuming. I get frustrated if I am not making progress and with the sales side of things it is really a case of getting out what you put in.
What do you like and dislike about the job?
I like the freedom and variation which it offers. I choose how to spend my week and I am my own motivation; if I do nothing one week then nothing happens, whereas if I really push the business then I can see tangible results immediately as the size of the orders jumps up. I like the challenge that building the business represents; there are endless opportunities and different scenarios, some difficult, some exciting and some boring but none is the same. I get satisfaction and pride out of selling a really great product. It is always satisfying knowing that people out there are enjoying your food and I enjoy introducing it to new customers.
I don’t really dislike much about it, although I get frustrated sometimes when things are slow and also, being self-employed I do not have the security of a wage like there would be in a 9–5 job. It is very much a way of life and it can become a bit of an obsession so it is always on my mind which sometimes makes it hard to relax.
In the future I hope to expand and try to sell in a wider area, with London being a big target for the coming months. In summer sales can suffer, as with most hot food, but at the moment we are concentrating on maintaining orders and preparing for a busy winter, which should be an exciting time for the company, despite the economy! The fact that the market is potentially so large is always a great motivation and I am confident we have a quality product that will outdo the competition. It is nice to be able to get behind the product and concentrate on the distribution.
Any other advice?
I’m not sure I am qualified to offer much advice! It is a funny thing to end up doing and not one I would have envisaged 4 years ago; that said, it is a pretty standard business model which we are trying to build. I think if you have a good product and a good group of focused people working towards an objective then you can achieve a lot. Most importantly I think you must enjoy the process and the journey as much as anything – the hard work is much easier if you love what you do.