Food & Drink Manufacturing

Food and drink is a vibrant, innovative and exciting industry. Across every community in the UK, nearly half a million people play a part in producing a fantastic range of food and drink that is enjoyed at home and around the globe. The food and drink industry is full of many rewarding careers in a range of different disciplines.

About Food and Drink Manufacturing

Food and drink is the biggest manufacturing sector in the country (larger than automotive and aerospace combined) and is a vital part of the UK economy. Ours is a national industry, with a footprint in every constituency. Vibrant sectors in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales demonstrate our geographical diversity. The food and drink industry ensures UK consumers can reliably access safe, affordable and nutritious food and drink at all price points. UK consumers and shoppers enjoy unprecedented choice and value and as an industry, we create many iconic products that are enjoyed all over the world.

What can I do?

Food and Drink Manufacturing is a hugely diverse industry, offering employment to people with a wide array of skills and talents. Whether you’re interested in food science, engineering and maintenance, innovation and sustainability or marketing, IT or finance, food and drink has opportunities for you. Key skills development is supported and encouraged, in particular essential leadership, management and exporting skills.

Food and drink businesses are always looking for STEM candidates who can take on a variety of roles, including: food engineers, process operators, technical professionals, food technologists, packaging technologists or new product development technicians. These roles give workers the opportunity to access on the job training, providing them with an understanding of how food and drink is produced within a manufacturing setting. It is this work that helps ensure that the highest quality products are being developed and produced for UK and worldwide consumption. 

If you thrive working with operations or logistics, the sector offers roles such as operations manager, supply chain manager, materials supply manager and production team leaders. These vital roles work to make sure that distribution lines run smoothly and food and drink products are safely shipped to supermarkets and consumers. 

Food and drink manufacturers also recruit for many non-operational roles that are essential to keeping businesses functioning. These range from human resource advisors, learning and development advisors, finance and payroll clerks, communications staff, IT and digital support staff, and marketing and sales specialists.


For most skill specific roles (i.e. engineer or food technologist) the right qualifications are important. However, businesses in the sector are always looking for candidates who have a passion for food and drink, and who are excited by working in this fast-paced environment in which every day presents new challenges.

Food and drink employers are looking for candidates who are clear communicators, work well in a team, show resilience, have a desire to learn and strive to ensure high standards can be met. Many employers are also looking for graduates who can be flexible when it comes to job location, as some food and drink manufacturers have multiple sites that can be spread across the UK.

Businesses also offer the opportunity to gain professional qualifications within areas such as team or project management, health and safety, and food safety – allowing you to build the skills you need.

Pathways and Qualifications

For graduate roles, most food and drink businesses look for a minimum 2:2 or equivalent in a relevant degree to the role you are applying for. While your degree is important, many companies are looking for someone with the right personality to be a good fit for their company. It is always useful to research the company before an interview to know their priorities and the behaviours and values they look for in a candidate. 

A university degree or BTEC qualification is not the only way to find a job in the food and drink industry. Many of the larger food and drink companies offer graduate schemes, especially for people who are looking to gain broader experience about the company and roles available to them before settling on a career. These can be a great opportunity to work in areas such as marketing, sales or finance, supply chain operations, and procurement.

Most food and drink businesses also offer a wide range of apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships that can support your development and progression within their business.  

If you already know your area of interest, then there are some standard routes for growth within your field. If not, many companies support your learning by allowing you the opportunity to move into other technical areas as you learn more about the industry. Listed below are some examples of career paths available to you in the food and drink industry.

Food Engineering – entry levels roles include an Engineering Apprentice, or a Junior Engineer if you have the correct engineering degree. Chemical, Electrical and Mechanical engineering degrees would be suitable for most Food and Drink Manufacturers. From here you can become a Multi-Skilled Technician, then a Shift Co-Ordinator leading into the higher engineering positions, including Engineering Manager.  

Food Science –  a complex area with many opportunities covering product development, innovation, and food science. If you have a degree in Food Science, Food Science and Nutrition or Food Production Management these would all lead directly to opportunities in Food Science. However, degrees in Biochemistry, Nutrition, Biotechnology or Microbiology would also give you the transferable knowledge to move into food and drink. The Institute for Food Science Technology (IFST) has worked with the University of Nottingham and UK graduate employers to develop Competencies for Food Graduate Careers (see link below). Their work demonstrates the wide range of initial job opportunities for graduates, with a corresponding choice of exciting careers following these first roles.

Facts & Figures

  • In 2018, the total sales of manufactured food and drink exceeded £74bn
  • Manufactured food and drink contributes more than £28bn to the economy, 2.3% more than 2017
  • The food supply chain employs 4.3 million people & generates over £120 billion of added value for the economy each year
  • Premier Foods makes enough mince pies each year at their bakery for every single person in the UK to have 3 each
  • In one of their production lines, Premier Foods uses robots to pack 60,000 individual cakes per hour
  • KP Snacks can trace its origins as a business back to the 19th Century. Today they are the UK’s second largest snack manufacturers with 7 manufacturing sites around the country
  • At Coca-Cola European Partners, they sell more than four billion bottles and cans every year
  • The food and drink manufacturing sector delivered a reduction in food waste over 30% on a per capita basis since 2011
  • Our industry employs over 430,000 people across every region and nation of the UK
  • 96% of the UK’s 7,400 food and drink manufacturing businesses are SMEs

About the author: 

The information in this article was provided by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

Apply for graduate opportunities here. 

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