Supermarket workers are a diverse group. Each supermarket worker is employed in one or more areas of a grocery store, from the checkout lane to the deli counter to the back stock room. There are 3.4 million people who work as employees of food stores, according to the Food Marketing Institute. Supermarkets are located in cities and towns across the nation and include large chains and locally owned stores.
History of Supermarket Worker Career
Grocery stores have existed in the United States since the 1800s. Those early stores did not carry a wide variety of merchandise and brands. Many specialized in one area such as bread, fish, or meat. Even these early stores needed workers to help run their businesses. At the time, the workers were less specialized; often, the same person who helped wrap the meat at a butcher shop might be found later in the day sweeping out the store.
In the early 1900s, small “mom and pop” stores opened. These stores were the beginning of the modern grocery industry. Soon, some of the stores expanded into chains, and the role of the supermarket worker became even more important. With bigger stores, more merchandise, and more customers, more people were needed to work in the stores.
While technology has eliminated positions in other industries, the grocery industry has wisely utilized technology (such as the bar code system) but has not seen a need to reduce staff. While the technology has made efficiency and customer service better, people are still needed to do most of the jobs in a grocery store. One technological change on the horizon is online grocery stores. This is a very new trend, but even online ordering involves order takers, delivery personnel, stock room personnel, inventory control workers, and more.
The Job of Supermarket Workers
There are so many different types of work to do in a grocery that each job can be very different from the next. One of the first positions most people think of in a grocery is the cashier. Cashiers are a store’s front line for customer service, since they interact with customers all day and ensure order accuracy. Cashiers greet customers, scan merchandise, record coupons, present totals, take payments, and help to bag groceries. It is each cashier’s responsibility to keep his or her work area clean and to ensure that the cash drawer balances at the end of his or her shift. If merchandise is marked incorrectly or damaged, the cashier calls the appropriate department to assist the customer.
Along with the cashiers, clerks help to bag the groceries, and, if necessary, they help the customers transport the grocery bags to their vehicles. Courtesy clerks, sometimes called bag boys or baggers, also collect carts from the parking lots and help provide maintenance for those carts.
Stock personnel play an important behind-the-scenes role in supermarkets. They help unload trucks, inspect merchandise, stock shelves, and track inventory. If you visit a grocery late at night, you can see these workers busily preparing for the next day’s customers.
Specialization is an important trend in the grocery industry. Since the industry is very competitive, stores are adding more services and conveniences to attract and keep customers. Some of the specialized departments have historically been a part of grocery stores, such as bakeries and meat markets, while others, such as restaurants and baby-sitting services, are new.
Each area requires workers with specialized knowledge and training as well as experience in the grocery industry. Butchers, bakers, and deli workers are generally dedicated to their individual departments in the store, while other workers may “float” to the areas where they are needed.
Other supermarket workers are responsible for certain areas such as produce or dairy. While there is no preparation work involved such as there is in the bakery or deli departments, these workers regularly inspect merchandise, check expiration dates, and maintain displays. Many supermarkets now include restaurants or food courts that require food preparers, servers, wait staff, and chefs.
Many larger chain supermarkets have a pharmacy onsite. Pharmacists fill prescriptions for customers and offer counseling on both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Pharmacy technicians assist the pharmacist by filling prescriptions, taking inventory, and handling the cash register.
There are also many specialized support positions in supermarkets. Store detectives assist with security measures and loss prevention. Human resource workers handle personnel-related issues, such as recruiting and training, benefits administration, labor relations, and salary administration. These are very important members of the supermarket team, since the average large grocery store employs 250 people. Supermarkets also require qualified accounting and finance workers, advertising workers, marketing workers, information technology professionals, and community and public relations professionals.
Supermarket workers report to either a department or store manager. Supermarket managers have to attend weekly departmental meetings and must communicate well with their management, which is usually at the district level. Because many supermarket workers deal directly with the customers, their managers depend on them to relay information about customer needs, wants, and dissatisfactions.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 30 percent of supermarket workers work part time. For workers with school, family, or other employment, hours are scheduled at the time they are available, such as evenings and weekends. Since many grocery stores are open 24 hours a day, employees may work during the day or evening hours. Weekend hours are also important, and most grocery stores are open on holidays as well.
All of the different jobs of a supermarket worker have one very important thing in common: They are customer-driven. Grocery sales nationwide continue to climb, and customer service is highly important in the grocery business as in all retail businesses.
The primary responsibility of all supermarket workers is to serve the customer. Many secondary duties, such as keeping work areas clean, collecting carts from the parking lot, and checking produce for freshness, are also driven by this main priority.
Supermarket Worker Career Requirements
Many workers in the supermarket industry are recent high school graduates or are currently in high school. There is a large turnover in the field, as many workers move on to other careers. In high school, you should take English, mathematics, business, and computer science classes to learn the basic skills for most supermarket jobs.
Postsecondary training is not required in the supermarket industry but may be encouraged for specific areas, such as the bakery, or for management positions. Stores offer on-thejob training and value employees who are able to learn quickly while they work.
Certification or Licensing
To protect the public’s health, bakers, deli workers, and butchers are required by law in most states to possess a health certificate and undergo periodic physical exams. These examinations, usually given by the state board of health, make certain that the individual is free from communicable diseases and skin infections.
The most important requirement for a supermarket worker is the ability to work with people. “With every job I’ve done here, I’ve had to help people out,” says Nick Williams, who works as a stock boy, bag boy, and cashier at Foods Plus supermarket in Columbus, Indiana. Because workers are required to work with both the public and their own management, communication and customer service skills are important. The ability to follow directions as well as being accurate and honest are qualities that all supermarket workers should possess.
Exploring Supermarket Worker Career
The best way to find out about what it’s like to be a supermarket worker is to become one. Openings for high school students are usually available, and it’s a great way to find out about the industry.
Take a class relating to a supermarket specialty you find interesting. If you think the bakery looks like fun, take a cake-decorating class and find out if this work is suited to you.
Help out with inventory. Many grocery and retail stores offer limited short-term employment (a day or two a week) for people who can help with inventory during key times of the year. This is a good opportunity to get your foot in the store without making a greater commitment.
Talk to your friends or even your parents. Chances are that at some time, they have worked in a grocery store. Find out what they liked and didn’t like about the work. Another source for information is your local grocery store. Talk with the people there about their jobs.
There are more than 34,000 supermarkets in the United States, according to the Food Marketing Institute. They are located across the nation, in towns and cities. Some are part of a large chain such as Kroger or Wal-Mart Superstores. Kroger has the most stores of any supermarket chain—over 2,500. Albertson’s and Wal-Mart Superstores are also in the top three chains. Other stores are a part of smaller chains or are independently owned.
Workers will have more employment opportunities in cities and large towns where several stores are located. In smaller towns, only one or two stores may serve the area.
Nick Williams got his first job in the supermarket in the same way as many others. He applied at the customer service office at the front of the store. Williams was looking for a part-time job with flexible hours and applied at several retail stores in his area.
Besides walk-in applications, groceries use newspaper ads and job drives to attract new employees. Because some of the jobs a supermarket worker may do require little education and pay a modest hourly rate, there are often openings as workers move on to other positions or career fields.
If you apply in person, you should be ready to fill out application materials at the office. Neat dress and good manners are important when applying in person.
Many of today’s grocery managers started out as high school clerks or cashiers. It is possible to turn a part-time job into a full-time career. “There are a lot of opportunities to learn different jobs, if you want to,” says Williams.
The opportunities to advance within a supermarket are good if you are dedicated and hard working. With a lot of hard work and dedication, it is possible to advance to a more specialized and better-paying position.
Supermarkets rely heavily on experienced workers, so while a college education might be helpful, it is certainly not required to advance in the field. Relevant experience and hard work are just as beneficial to advancement.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average nonsupervisory food store employee made $332 per week in 2004. The following are median hourly rates for supermarket workers by specialty: cashiers, $7.90; stock clerks and order fillers, $8.94; and butchers and meat cutters, $13.00. Some employees may make less per hour, down to the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, while specialized workers in some departments may earn more.
Many supermarket workers are part-time employees and do not receive fringe benefits; full-time employees often receive medical benefits and vacation time. Supermarket workers often are eligible for discounts at the stores in which they work, depending on their company policy. The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union represents many supermarket workers concerning pay, benefits, and working condition issues.
Grocery stores are often open 24 hours a day, so workers are required for a variety of shifts. Many supermarket workers are part-time employees and work a varied schedule that changes each week. Depending on the time of day they work, the store may be bustling or quiet. Most of the work is indoors, although some outdoor work may be required to deliver groceries, collect carts, and maintain outside displays. Schedules are usually prepared weekly, and most will include weekend work.
Supermarket workers work in shifts and must work with the managers and other workers in a supervisory environment. These managers may be within their department or within the entire store. They must follow directions and report to those managers when required.
Supermarket Worker Career Outlook
While the Career Guide to Industries (published by the U.S. Department of Labor) predicts only 7 percent growth for this industry (as compared to 14 percent for all occupations) through 2014, employment for supermarket workers is good. The field has a large turnover with workers leaving to pursue other careers. Many part-time employees are seasonal and must be replaced often.
As supermarkets add more conveniences for customers, workers will be needed to staff those areas. For example, adding restaurants to a supermarket creates a need for a whole new set of food service workers.
During the past 10 years, the number of grocery stores and supermarkets has declined. Many small chains and local groceries have been purchased by larger chains, and others have gone out of business in the face of competition.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that some occupations in this industry will enjoy stronger growth than the industry average. Bakers, food preparation workers, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians should enjoy faster than average employment growth through 2014.