By: Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, FMI

meat counter staff

The labor squeeze has hit many industries over the past two years, causing employers to rethink how to entice new workers and retain existing ones. In the meat industry – which has often challenging environments and tasks that require specific skills and comprehensive safety training – processors have raised wages and benefits to fill spots on their line. Retailers have likewise upped pay and perks to staff their meat departments.

With the U.S. unemployment rate down to 3.4% in the first month of 2023, companies in the meat business are working on other ways to address ongoing labor challenges. They do so recognizing that some aspects of the tight market may be longer-term, given data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that employees under 34 are changing jobs frequently and often. Many employers are also keenly aware of the fallout from trends like the Great Resignation and “quiet quitting.”

In addition to paying competitive wages and salaries, companies in the meat sector can deploy other incentives and solutions to ensure that their operations are running smoothly. For example, emphasizing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts has moved from a should-have to a must-have in today’s operating environment. DEI initiatives and benefits can not only help with retention but widen a potential base of team members who feel welcomed.

Broadening educational opportunities is another way to support those who work in various jobs throughout the meat industry. These opportunities can include internal programs offered as continuing education, as well as tuition support or reimbursement for those enrolled in outside programs.

Providing greater product variety also plays into labor and employment. Meat brands and retailers that offer portioned, pre-packaged and value-added products can offset some labor problems while allowing current employees more time to engage with shoppers. That’s particularly important as consumers continue to buy more protein and cook at home following the COVID-19 pandemic and high prices. At the same time, many retailers with service meat counters have experienced a boom, as shoppers become more discerning and are experimenting with different proteins and cuts. Staff butchers, then, become valuable resources.

Finally, recognizing talent is crucial to retention. The 2023 Annual Meat Conference Leaders of Tomorrow program, for instance, honors outstanding young professionals in meat retailing.

Learn more about how to navigate the current labor situation at the 2023 Annual Meat Conference, March 6-8 in Dallas. This year’s event includes a session on “Attracting and Retaining Your Workforce” on Monday, March 6.

Register Today