Grocery Store Careers: Options, Job Titles, and Descriptions

Grocery store cashier working during pandemic

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the grocery business was already booming. The United States Census Bureau reports that grocery store sales reached $665.1 billion in 2018, and increased to $682.8 billion in 2019. During the pandemic, meanwhile, grocery sales have continued to soar, going up 11.8% year over year through October 2020. 

While coronavirus continues to have an adverse effect on many businesses, grocery stores have endured ever since they—and their workers—were deemed essential at the onset of the pandemic. Still, despite grocery stores’ significant sales growth and their importance in fulfilling customer needs, certain issues remain prominent, particularly in regards to their employees and hazard pay. Although many retailers instituted hazard pay during the initial stages of the pandemic, those pay raises—typically $2 an hour—were mostly temporary.As workers have united and campaigns have been launched in support of reinstituting hazard pay, it’s important to know who these employees are as they continue serving as frontline workers during a public health crisis. 

Grocery Store Careers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common grocery store jobs, cashier and stocker, earn an average hourly wage of around $12 and $13, respectively. Grocery store jobs are low-paying compared with other industries: the hourly wage for grocery store workers averages $14.68, compared with an average hourly wage of $25.72 for all sectors. 

With over 2.9 million food and beverage store workers, there are many opportunities to get hired. Grocery stores offer flexible schedules and the opportunity to advance, for employees seeking to grow their careers. On-the-job training is provided for entry-level positions, and most jobs don’t have formal educational requirements. Some employers may require a high school diploma or the equivalent.

What Is a Grocery Store?

A grocery store is a retail establishment that sells food and other household goods. Grocery stores can be independent or part of corporate chains and offer a variety of products and services, including prepared foods and culturally specific ingredients. Supermarkets, which are generally chain stores, often have a wider selection of brand-name products and departments, like for example, a floral department or pharmacy.

Whether a grocery store is large or small, independent or part of a corporate chain, it typically has some common features. For example, most grocery stores have departments such as:

  • Grocery (non-refrigerated foods)
  • Frozen Foods
  • Dairy
  • Meat & Seafood (sometimes separate departments)
  • Deli & Prepared Foods
  • Produce
  • Health, Beauty, & Wellness
  • Front End (checkout and bagging)

Depending on state law, grocery stores and supermarkets may also have a beer and wine department.

Jobs in a Grocery Store

If your experience with grocery stores is limited to buying food, you’re already familiar with the front-end jobs of cashier and bagger. You may also have noticed stockers replenishing items or spoken to customer service representatives. Behind those immediately visible roles are workers in management, support, human resources, receiving, and IT.

But the most common grocery store jobs, according to BLS data, are still the ones customers interact with most often:

1. Cashier

Cashiers are the backbone of any retail establishment, including grocery stores. These workers scan merchandise and process payment. They take coupons, make change, provide receipts, and perform a host of related tasks. They may also perform other customer service tasks like answering questions about merchandise and helping customers sign up for loyalty card programs. Cashiers also open and close cash drawers at the start and end of their shifts.

According to the BLS, 865,150 cashiers worked at grocery stores in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

Skills Needed: Cashiers need top-notch customer service skills, including product knowledge, communication skills, and listening skills. They also need job-specific skills like accounting and money skills, including the ability to make change.

Pay: Cashiers in grocery stores earn an average hourly wage of $12.01, according to the BLS.

2. Stocker

Stockers refill grocery store shelves, moving products from storage to their appropriate placement in the store. These workers answer customer questions about merchandise, adjust products on shelves so that they’re front-facing and visible, and price items. Stockers typically must be able to lift heavy items and stand for long periods of time.

According to the BLS, 543,790 stockers worked at grocery stores in 2019.

Skills Needed: In addition to being physically strong, stockers must have excellent attention to detail, as well as strong customer service skills.

Pay: Stockers and order fillers earn an average hourly wage of $13.33, according to the BLS.

3. Bagger

Baggers load merchandise into grocery bags. They may also take bagged groceries out to the parking lot and load them into customers’ cars. Like most front-end jobs in a grocery store, baggers may be called upon to answer questions about products.

According to the BLS, 116,420 baggers (aka “hand packers and packagers”) worked in grocery stores in 2019.

Skills Needed: In addition to developing a knack for packing a grocery bag so that food doesn’t get squashed, baggers need excellent customer service skills.

Pay: Hand packers and packagers earn an average hourly wage of $11.41, according to the BLS.

4. Manager/Assistant Manager

While each grocery store has its own organizational chart, most have a store manager, an assistant manager, and department and assistant managers for each section of the store. 

Management jobs in grocery stores pay much more than cashier, bagger, and stocker, but pay varies widely depending on the role. Manager roles also typically have higher educational requirements than those of other grocery store workers. Although it is still possible to start with a high school diploma or GED, some employers require a two- or four-year college degree in business or a related field.

According to the BLS, 155,030 first-line supervisors and retail sales workers and 39,670 general and operations managers worked in grocery stores in 2019.

Skills Needed: In addition to customer service skills, managers and assistant managers must have retail management skills, including product selection, vendor management, and inventory control.

Pay: The BLS reports that general and operations managers earn an average hourly wage of $39.17, while supervisors earn an average hourly wage of $21.89.

5. Customer Service Representative

Customer service representatives at grocery stores assist shoppers with questions, sell products that aren’t available in the aisles (for example, baby formula), and address customer complaints. Depending on the store, customer service reps may pinch-hit as cashiers, baggers, or stockers, if needed.

According to the BLS, 102,020 customer service representatives worked at grocery stores in 2019.

Skills Needed: These workers must have customer service skills like problem solving, communication, conflict resolution, and adaptability.

Pay: Customer service representatives in 2019 earned an average hourly wage of $13.16, according to the BLS.

6. Food Preparation Worker

Food preparation workers help prepare and package foods in various departments, including the deli section. These workers sanitize food prep surfaces, cut meat and cheese, mix ingredients, and package prepared foods.

According to the BLS, 189,980 food preparation workers were employed at grocery stores in 2019.

Skills Needed: Food preparation workers need strength, speed, and skill, as well as the ability to communicate with the public and handle a high volume of requests.

Pay: Grocery store food preparation workers earn an average hourly wage of $12.72, according to the BLS.

7. Butcher

Butchers cut, trim, and package meat and poultry. Typically, butchers will prepare standard cuts of meat for purchase, as well as providing services to order for customers with special requests. Most butchers learn their trade on the job, but it can take more than a year to become skilled.

According to the BLS, 107,960 butchers worked at grocery stores in 2019.

Skills Needed: Physical strength and excellent customer service skills.

Pay: Butchers earn an average hourly wage of $15.62, according to the BLS.

Note: Like other retail businesses, grocery stores will have a variety of other jobs, including HR, marketing, maintenance, and facilities, etc. Large chains will also have C-level executives like a chief executive officer, president, and so on.

Challenges Grocery Stores and Workers Face

Grocery store workers have challenging jobs with or without a pandemic. Some of the issues they have to deal with include: 

Hard Work for Low Pay 

Grocery store jobs tend to be low-paying and physically demanding. Often, low-income roles offer little to no paid time off, and health insurance options may be expensive and less comprehensive than benefits available to higher-paying roles in other fields.  

Scheduling Problems

Retail jobs of all kinds come with scheduling difficulties, including difficulty landing full-time hours, unpredictable schedules, and work on nights, weekends, and holidays.

Hazardous Conditions

In a recent survey from employee training firm Axonify, one-third of grocery store workers said that their employer had not taken sufficient steps to ensure their safety at work during the pandemic. Meanwhile, only 61% said that they felt supported by their manager during the crisis.