Nevertheless, the poll of industry executives – conducted by Clarion Research, Inc. on behalf of the audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG – found it will take until 2011 to see improvement in the jobs market for the industry. Thirty-nine percent of the 61 top-level industry executives interviewed said they were more optimistic about employment in the sector for the coming year – up seven percentage points from the same time last year.
Patrick Dolan, KPMG LLP national line of business leader, consumer markets and US sector leader, food, drink and consumer goods, said: "Food and beverage executives are seeing a better economic picture this year relating to their overall business. However, significant concerns remain over the employment outlook and the continued challenges of heightened competition and aggressive pricing and discounting practices.”
More than half (51 percent) of those surveyed said they expected to add employees, but most expected this to be in the range of one to three percent. Meanwhile, 23 percent said they expected to cut the number of employees this year and 26 percent expected no change.
One of the biggest shifts was seen in the proportion of respondents who thought profitability was better now than a year ago, at two-thirds of those surveyed, compared to less than one-third last year, KPMG said.
"The executives tell us they are also focusing on innovation – in products, in services and in branding and promotions – to drive growth," Dolan said. "…Food and beverage executives will need to meet the challenge of marketing to a consumer base growing more technologically savvy every day."
Product innovation and innovative merchandising strategies were named as the top two factors for growing revenue in the near future, the survey found.
KMPG also said that most respondents (59 percent) thought the food and beverage sector would recover faster than the wider economy, but their predicted time for economic recovery in the US is now 2.2 years away, although last year it was 1.9 years.
Dolan said: "While there is an uptick in the level of optimism this year from the food and beverage execs, they are pushing their recovery outlook even further out from last year's predictions. These results illustrate that the economy will most likely not recover as rapidly as hoped, placing additional emphasis on food and beverage companies to continue to employ strategies to manage costs and improve productivity. Companies are trying to achieve sustainable margin improvement in the face of continuing challenging times."