Deloitte and FMI – The Food Industry Association: New Study Examines the Future of Work in the Food Industry

Pandemic-influenced behaviors continue to impact the food industry, as food retailers cite online shopping as the biggest change driver (48%) for the future of work. Consequently, the effects are trickling down to product suppliers who are tasked with changing to meet evolving demands from retailers (49%).

Nearly all food retailers and product suppliers (over 90%) are investing in the future of work, although fewer than 1 in 5 are allocating significant investments due to competing priorities.

Growing market share is the No. 1 goal for future of work initiatives across the food industry, and 41% of companies say they will create their own future of work by building an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience.

Despite varying job roles across the industry, talent availability and talent retention are the greatest workforce challenges for both food retailers and product suppliers.

Why this matters
The pandemic created a new dynamic across the food industry as restaurant closures drove at-home consumption of food to new heights. While food retailers and product suppliers scrambled to meet demand by accelerating the use of technology to fulfill online orders and working to overcome supply challenges, they are now ready to look past the pandemic and define the future of work for the industry.

Deloitte and FMI – The Food Industry Association, have developed a series of reports to examine how food retailers and suppliers are approaching the future of work. The first report, “Future of Work: The State of the Food Industry,” reveals the industry’s future of work maturity, goals, roadblocks and investment.

The report is based on a survey conducted between April and May 2021 of more than 150 U.S.-based executives at consumer packaged goods, food manufacturing and processing companies, as well as grocers and other food retailers, in addition to interviews with industry leaders.

Investing in change
The past year revealed fundamental shifts in the nature of work required for the food industry to meet consumer demand. For retailers, this means managing online shopping and delivery of groceries curbside versus more traditional in-store support, while suppliers focus on staying resilient to adapt to dramatic shifts in consumer preferences. To build this new future of work, food retailers and suppliers are taking a fresh look at the type of work people are doing, where it takes place, and the need for new skills and technology. Most senior leaders across functional areas are already engaged in future of work efforts, underscoring the importance of implementing change in all parts of the organization.

  • For 70% of companies, talent and human resources (HR) executives are part of the team driving future of work initiatives, while 44% say their CEO is a future of work project champion. More than a quarter also are championed by their information technology, operations and/or line of business leadership.
  • In food, the future of work is about driving tangible business outcomes. For 41% of companies, their top action is to build an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience as a means to grow sales and market share (their No. 1 goal).
  • Through work transformation efforts, the food industry also aims to improve the customer experience (27% overall and 39% among food retailers). Increasing innovation, building capacity and reducing cost are the top goals for a minority of companies at 7% each.
  • Efforts to prepare for the future of work are widespread. Nearly half (46%) of executives say their companies are ready or very ready for work in the new normal.
  • Further, 9 in 10 companies are investing in future of work-related initiatives such as retraining employees to use new technologies.
  • However, only 2 in 10 food retailers and 1 in 10 product suppliers classify their investments as significant. Competing priorities are constraining progress for half (48%) of the companies surveyed; only 8% cited limited financial capital as a reason for restricting investment in the future of work.

Key quote
“During the pandemic, it was all-hands-on-deck to meet consumer demand. Now the food industry is looking to drive performance and business outcomes through future of work initiatives. However, the food industry is a complex system and no single company is going to be able to get their fully realized vision of the future of work on their own, and will require collaboration with their suppliers, partners and other industry participants. Grocers and product suppliers should lay the ground work for the future together, and the companies that invest in a people-centric approach by prioritizing the work, workforce and workplace will be better positioned to adapt to shifting consumer preferences and long-term growth.”

–          Barb Renner, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. consumer products leader

People are the future and the present
Despite differences in how companies are approaching the future of work, attracting, and retaining talent are near universal challenges for all industry players today.

  • For food retailers, talent availability (44%) is the foremost challenge, followed by talent retention (40%) and retraining and reskilling employees for new technologies (39%).
  • For product suppliers, talent retention and driving company culture are both top concerns (45%), followed by attracting emerging, high-demand skillsets (36%).
  • Most executives (59%) agree that offering flexibility and hybrid work options, where possible, will be the key to attracting and retaining talent.  
  • In addition, the industry recognizes the need for a greater workforce use of technology. Food retailers aim to achieve this through retraining and reskilling employees, while product suppliers are more likely to hire in those high-demand skills.
  • Further, 3 in 5 food industry executives say they are aggressively seeking to automate work where possible. Some anticipate automating 50% or more as companies look to fulfill manual labor roles in new ways.

Key quote
“At a time when many industries suffered devastating job losses, the grocery industry has served as a source for occupations for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Yet FMI’s operations data suggest that turnover in food retail was 40% before the pandemic; 46% said COVID-19 made it harder to recruit and retain people. Retailers told us they addressed this tension by focusing on a range of benefits for associates, including higher compensation; bonuses; flextime; training and skills development; employee wellness programs; education programs; and hiring and retention incentives. As we witness in this new study with Deloitte on the future of our workforce, the food industry can and should continue to rally around the strategies and investments it employed during the pandemic to keep customers and their essential workforce safe and America fed.”

–          Mark Baum, senior vice president, industry relations, chief collaboration officer, FMI – The Food Industry Association

Connect with us on Twitter at @DeloitteCB or @FMI_ORG or on LinkedIn @BarbRenner.

About FMI – The Food Industry Association
As the food industry association, FMI works with and on behalf of the entire industry to advance a safer, healthier and more efficient consumer food supply chain. FMI brings together a wide range of members across the value chain — from retailers that sell to consumers, to producers that supply food and other products, as well as the wide variety of companies providing critical services — to amplify the collective work of the industry. 

About Deloitte
Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax, and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500® and more than 7,000 private companies. Our people come together for the greater good and work across the industry sectors that drive and shape today’s marketplace — delivering measurable and lasting results that help reinforce public trust in our capital markets, inspire clients to see challenges as opportunities to transform and thrive, and help lead the way toward a stronger economy and a healthier society. Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them. Building on more than 175 years of service, our network of member firms spans more than 150 countries and territories. Learn how Deloitte’s more than 330,000 people worldwide connect for impact at

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