Food and Beverage Manufacturing to Grow in 2021 Driven by Large Markets and Ag Product Access

Food manufacturing or food processing is a growing industry whose prospects are even brighter for U.S. production as the “eat local movement” and COVID 19 creates food security issues has the potential to drive additional production of this industry to domestic locations but is in regions with easy access to agriculture products.  Industries in the Food Manufacturing subsector transform livestock and agricultural products into products for intermediate or final consumption.[i] The industry groups are distinguished by the raw materials (generally of animal or vegetable origin) processed into food products, and the food products manufactured in these establishments are typically sold to wholesalers or retailers for distribution to consumers, but establishments primarily engaged in retailing bakery and candy products made on the premises not for immediate consumption are included.[ii]  The food manufacturing subsector consists of these industry groups:

  • Animal Food Manufacturing;
  • Grain and Oilseed Milling;
  • Sugar and Confectionery Product Manufacturing;
  • Fruit and Vegetable Preserving and Specialty Food Manufacturing;
  • Dairy Product Manufacturing;
  • Animal Slaughtering and Processing;
  • Seafood Product Preparation and Packaging;
  • Bakeries and Tortilla Manufacturing; and
  • Other Food Manufacturing.[i]

These occupations nearly all paid near the median average wage as outlined below:

  • Bakers median annual wage is $28,300;
  • First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers in food manufacturing median annual wage is $56,910;
  • Food batch makers median annual wage is $31,560.
  • Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders median annual wage is $32,140; and
  • Slaughterers and meat packers median annual wage is $29,420.[i]

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found there are over 35,000 establishments or companies in the food manufacturing industry, and, as the chart below illustrates, food manufacturing facilities in the United States have continued to illustrate strong and steady growth.[i] A recent study suggested the global food processing solutions industry generated revenues worth USD 58,250.45 million in the year 2019 and is expected to register commendable growth between 2020 and 2026.[ii] The growth is primarily attributed to focus among major companies towards adopting efficient and fast food processing and distribution systems.[iii]  In 2018, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed more than 1.7 million people or just over 1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment.[iv] In thousands of food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into products for intermediate or final consumption. Meat and poultry plants employed the largest percentage of food and beverage manufacturing workers, followed by bakeries, and beverage plants.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics further defines food processing workers to number of 42,000 across the United States covering a range of industries and occupations.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while food and beverage processing plants are located throughout the United States, they are more numerous in some States than others. Five States—California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois—accounted for 38 percent of the 34,661 U.S. food and beverage processing plants operating in 2015. These States also have the highest populations and lead in agricultural production and manufacturing. California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois accounted for 35 percent of both the U.S. population and all manufacturing establishments in 2015. The value of cash receipts for all agricultural commodities produced in these States represented 26 percent of the U.S. total in 2015. 

However, food processing workers are not only located in the larger states which house facilities to serve large population bases but also in many states more rural in nature with larger access to agriculture products.  As an example, the state leading the growth of food manufacturing jobs from 2014-18 according to Emsi is Washington state.  The state best known for its apples also produces and exports milk, potatoes, and frozen food products.  Washington’s largest industries in the food processing and manufacturing cluster are frozen fruit, juice, and vegetable manufacturing (over 6,000 jobs, down 3% the last five years). More than a third of the state’s food manufacturing jobs are in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area. Since 2014, food processing and manufacturing cluster jobs shot up 30% in Seattle, the second-fastest growth rate among the 10 largest metros behind Phoenix (33%). The Kennewick-Richland MSA houses 5,200 jobs in this cluster but saw just 5% growth since 2014. While employment growth has been strong, the cluster made up just 1% of the state’s $487 billion gross regional product (GRP) in 2017.  This point is further illustrated by the fact that Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Iowa are among the top states with the highest concentration of food processing jobs.