Retaining Talent in the Food & Drink Industry

For Food & Drink businesses, retaining the most talented employees is a major factor in determining how successful the company will be. It is estimated it can cost a business £30,000 to replace a leaver, when you consider all the costs associated with bringing in a new employee such as: onboarding, training, recruitment fees and productivity loss as the new employee may take months to become as productive as their predecessor. When good people leave it can also affect the morale of the existing team and add the pressure of covering their ex-colleagues workload whilst a replacement is sought.

At FoodEng Recruitment we speak to candidates daily who are disenfranchised with their existing workplace, so we know the issues that make talented people seek out alternative employment. Below we have detailed the most common complaints that employees tell us about their existing employers. We have listed them to assist Employers, to help then avoid the pitfalls that can lead to high turnover of staff and increased costs.

Give Employees the Opportunity to Progress

In a 2018 Survey we conducted surveying 287 Engineering Managers working in the Food Industry, 81% of respondents stated that no defined career path/framework existed for them to follow in their current role, and almost half of the 81% cited Career Progression as a main motivator for considering a new role. This highlights how important it is to give Managers the opportunity to fulfil their career aspirations and keep them challenged and engaged.

Certainly, from speaking with candidates across all job disciplines within the Food & Drink industry, a key theme with many job-seeking Food professionals is a frustration they feel when they have hit a glass ceiling or are being overlooked for internal positions. This is particularly prevalent with those who are young, ambitious and feel they are being held back. 

If progression is not possible and you fear the employee may leave, consider offering them an alternative to leaving, as it may be better to have their skills and experience retained within the business in another capacity, rather than lose them to another Food business or even a competitor. In this regard, International assignments, secondments or a cross-functional move could be a good option.

Give Employees Training & Development

If staff believe their employer is investing in them, it makes them feel valued and they are less likely to leave. Investing money and time into employees should also lead to improved efficiencies as their new skills and training is deployed within the business, making it a worthwhile financial commitment for the business. Where Nationally recognised training has been given, we have seen some Food companies offer the training on the proviso that it is given in return for the employee staying with the business for a set period of time, thus ensuring the business gets a return on its investment, employees are generally open to this as they view it as a joint-commitment.

Pay Employees the Market Rate for the Job

Talented Food professionals know their worth in the market and with unemployment at record lows and a lack of 'good people' available, it is not too difficult to find a new employer willing to pay the market rate. Food professionals we speak with inform us that they receive regular inquiries into their availability for jobs for direct employers on networking sites such as LinkedIn. Some have even informed us they found their latest job at a click of a button by speculatively emailing a few contacts at companies they felt they might enjoy working at.

Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn have given candidates the power to research companies, find out who the key contacts are at the organisations they would like to work and make direct approaches, which adds to difficulty in retaining staff, particularly those staff who are disengaged. Many talented employees will be aware that the skills and qualifications they have are in demand, so rather than wait for a vacancy to apply to, they are confident enough to make speculative approaches.

Whereas in 2008-20012, employees were content to keep their heads down and work away, now with a backdrop of (almost) full employment and a stable economy, employees are more likely to put their head above the parapet and see what offers they might receive, if they feel they are being under-paid. In the 2018 Engineering Manager Salary Survey we undertook, 61% of survey respondents stated that increased salary was a key motivator to them seeking out alternative work.

We would urge Food & Drink businesses to constantly benchmark salaries across all positions, to see if their salaries offered are competitive with similar companies within a 30-mile radius. If you find you are finding that you are falling behind what others are paying, it won’t be long before you start losing people, so pre-empt this by increasing pay levels. A £2000 increase today may save you £30000 a few months down the line. The pay threshold where you are likely to see staff join leave is around 10%, so for example if the Factory down the road is paying its Engineers 10% more, you are likely to start losing people.

Senior Management Treat Employees well

Have you ever been in a job where you were overworked and underpaid? Chances are you didn’t stay in it very long. Treating staff well doesn’t always mean paying them more, giving them large bonuses or benefits. It can be the little things that makes all the difference, such as making sure they are supported, have a manageable workload, have a culture of teamwork and inclusion, ensuring staff have the tools to do the job, ensuring they are adequately trained, ensuring they are listened to and treated fairly, ensuring staff are incentivised and paid the appropriate salary, ensuring employees are appreciated and given recognition for a job well done.

Treating employees well is all about good Management. We speak to many disenfranchised Food professionals who contact us with stories of bad management, how they have not been able to implement change due to bad management, how they can’t function in the role due to bad management, how the style of management is creating a toxic culture within the business. Staff retention should always start with good management and treating staff well.


Talented Food professionals will always be in demand and even with the most progressive staff retention policy, you will still experience some attrition. However, the way in which Food & Drink businesses treat their staff will be a major factor in how well they retain their best people.

The culture of a business starts at the top and cascades down and if the senior team is aware and attuned to the needs of its talent and can keep its talent engaged, motivated, excited and productive, they have a chance of retaining the best and bringing more talent into the business. If you treat people well and give them a reason to stay, they will generally repay you with their loyalty.