Whether you’re a grocery store owner just getting started, or a prospective employee, it’s a pretty common question to wonder what are the different positions in a supermarket or small grocery store.
Here’s what I learned in my 2+ decades:
Supermarkets have a variety of positions including:
- Stock clerks
- Meat cutters
- Wine experts
- Shipping and receiving clerks
- Support staff such as IT and HR
- A department manager for 1 or more departments
- A store manager and assistant store managers
But there’s more to know about grocery store workers, positions, and who does what.
After all, there’s a huge difference between a corner market and one of the Whole Foods stores in Manhattan. So one size does not fit all when it comes to mapping out positions in a grocery store.
So let’s get going and we’ll cover it all.
What departments are in a grocery store?
A typical large supermarket will have different departments, such as:
- Grocery (canned & boxed non-refrigerated items: usually the biggest part of the store)
- Frozen Foods
- Seafood (sometimes combined with meat)
- Produce (fresh vegetables and fruit)
- Deli (can be just sliced meats and cheeses or a full-blown counter-service deli selling food to go)
- Dairy (milk, eggs, yogurt)
- Beer & Wine
- Health and Beauty (everything from vitamins to makeup)
- Front End (where the cash registers are where you check out)
Of course, every chain of stores does things a little differently.
At Whole Foods, where I worked for many years, Deli was almost like a full-blown restaurant with hot and cold food bars, grab-and-go cases of prepared foods, and oftentimes also including pizza ovens, made-to-order sandwich stations and more.
Then Whole Foods also had a department called Specialty which included cheese, beer, wine, and high-end charcuterie (fancy sliced meats like prosciutto).
Some stores also break out a section called General Merchandise from regular grocery.
This is typically dry goods, but non-foods. Items like charcoal, pet food, paper products would typically fall into this category.
Some stores might also have a department of graphic artists doing printed signs or chalkboards, but larger chain stores probably do the majority of that work at a regional office and just have the local stores print out what they need.
As you can imagine, all the departments in a grocery store vary a lot from company to company. A small mom and pop store about the size of a convenience store (about 9,000 square feet) will have very different needs from a large chain store (anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 square feet).
This is Amazon Go, the Amazon grocery store where you walk in, pick things off the shelf and leave (without interacting with any employees including a cashier). pic.twitter.com/GfpQBrGVnq
— Mitch Lake (@mlake9) September 1, 2019
What positions are in a grocery store?
In each of these departments except Front End, depending on the size of the store and the sales volume it does each week, you might find the following positions:
- Department Manager (usually 1)
- Assistant Department Manager (usually 1)
- Product Buyer/Orderer (1 or more depending on the size of the department)
- Stock clerks (anywhere from 3-10 or more per department)
The Front End mostly consists of cashiers and baggers in addition to the department manager and assistant manager.
Then on a more store-wide level, there would be support positions such as:
- HR (usually 1) – Responsible for payroll support, hiring, firing, disciplinary matters
- Receiving (the person responsible for receiving the delivery trucks and sending the products to the departments to be stocked) – this could be 1 person or multiple depending on the size of the store
- IT – Larger, more complicated stores would have an IT person responsible for price accuracy for the printed price shelf tags, maintaining the computers, point of sale software the cash registers use, and any electronic scales that weigh and print prices
- Custodians – Stores may have 1 or more employees who just clean, sweep, mop up spills, and empty trash cans. Typically grocery stores use a floor cleaning service who are contracted out to clean, shine, and polish the floors 1 or more nights each week
Also, some stores are small. The Whole Foods Market store in San Francisco I ran for 3 years (called the Franklin store), was only 28,000 square feet. BUT, it did almost a million dollars in sales each week. That was well over a decade ago too, so you can only imagine what the sales are today.
My point is that doing that kind of sales volume from a relatively small space has different needs and challenges from a larger store doing less volume.
What skills do you need to work in a supermarket?
As a General Manager at Whole Foods Market, I always repeated the mantra “hire for attitude, train for skill”.
By that I mean, I can train anyone to do almost any job in the store.
Some jobs will require more training than others. And some jobs might require certifications (like perhaps HR or forklift driving for the receiver). But in most cases, I can train anyone to stock groceries, cashier, or help customers.
What I CAN’T do is train people to have a good attitude.
If someone is naturally argumentative or has a chip on their shoulder about something from their past, there’s only so much I, as a general manager, can do to help them.
In other cases, sometimes just see themselves as a victim of life, and are constantly creating situations to justify those feelings. I can tell these people to be nice, smile, not argue with everyone, or not make their co-workers uncomfortable.
But at the end of the day, all I can really do is make expectations clear, and hold them accountable when they fail to meet the expectations.
I have a recent article which goes into great detail about employees with negative attitudes and the best ways for managers to deal with them. So check that out to see the steps involved that might ultimately lead to them getting fired.
So the best skills to have to work in a grocery store are:
- A positive attitude
- Show up on time
- Only call out sick on very rare occasions when you are really sick
- Being flexible on what days and hours you can work
- The willingness to do any job that is needed even if it’s not “technically” part of your job description
If you bring those things to the job, I can train you on anything else and you’ll be an outstanding employee.
— CNBC (@CNBC) September 29, 2015
Grocery store job descriptions
As I got into above, every grocery store is a little different.
Some are huge, like the downtown Whole Foods Market I opened as a General Manager. That store opened in March of 2005 and we had over 650 employees and it did well over $1,000,000 each week right from the very beginning. It was also 86,000 square feet, making it quite large (especially for Whole Foods).
But other stores are small and don’t do anywhere near that volume in sales.
So as we discussed above, positions will vary a lot between stores and companies. Nationwide chain stores might do a lot of things (HR, pricing, signs, and ordering) in regional or national offices. Whereas small independent grocery stores do EVERYTHING in-house, often with the owner wearing many different hats.
BUT, having said all that, a cashier is a cashier, and a stocker is a stocker. And no matter the size of the store or the sales volume, the requirements for those jobs don’t really change that much.
The typical minimum expectations for anyone working in a grocery store would include:
- Able to lift 50 pounds
- In an 8-hour workday: stand or walk between 6-8 hours
- The ability to work in a wet and/or cold environment
- Flexible schedule including working nights, weekends, and holidays as needed
- The ability to use tools and equipment, such as box cutters, electric pallet jacks, and other machinery
Of course, each department will have specific job descriptions for each position, and the duties of a meat cutter will be very different from a bagger.
But the above is the typical minimum expectation for anyone working in a grocery store.
What is the job description of a grocery clerk?
A grocery clerk is the lifeblood of the store.
These people stock the shelves with product and fill it back up when it sells. They also keep the store looking good throughout the day doing what’s called “facing” or “fronting”.
Facing or fronting is simply pulling products from the back of a shelf to the front as products get purchased.
Depending on how busy the store is, this may be done at 1 designated time, or on a more ongoing basis throughout the day. Stores that focus mostly on value and low prices often have fewer grocery clerks working and may not do this at all.
But I can tell you the fuller and more presentable the shelves look, the more people are inclined to buy. If your store routinely looks like it just got ravaged in the face of a coming hurricane, you will sell less because it looks unappealing to people.
It’s not a conscious choice, but more of an instinctive reaction on the part of the customer.
Grocery clerks also provide the bulk of the customer service outside of the check stands. They direct people to products and offer product suggestions and maybe even cooking tips.
Whole Foods, of course, tends to focus heavily on customer service, whereas some grocery chains just hire grocery clerks based on how fast they can stock shelves.
The best stores balance those 2 skills.
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— U.S. EEOC (@USEEOC) August 27, 2019
Do cashiers have to stand all day and have to bag groceries?
Yes is the short answer.
Cashiers would typically stand at the register for 6-8 hours and bag groceries. Cashiers would also typically be expected to go out into the parking lot occasionally and collect grocery carts and bring them back to the front.
But having said that, the Equal Employment Opportunity laws do provide employment protection for workers who fall into what are called “protected classes”. Legally protected classes are:
- National origin
- People over 40
- People with physical or mental handicaps
Being in a protected class just means employers can’t discriminate against an employee or candidate based on those criteria. Eventually, I would think sexual orientation would be added to that list, but it’s not currently there.
Now that doesn’t mean a store can’t refuse to hire someone completely physically unable to do a job. But they do have to provide what’s called “reasonable accommodation”.
What is reasonable accommodation?
Of course, what is “reasonable” is where the challenge comes in for grocery stores since that word can mean many different things to different people.
For a cashier with plantar fasciitis, a reasonable accommodation might be to allow them to cashier sitting on a stool. But it could also be seen as “reasonable” to ask them to bring a doctor’s note of what their physical restrictions actually are.
However, if someone applying for a cashier position has carpal tunnel syndrome, there may not be a “reasonable accommodation” for that job since it does involve using the hands and fingers all day long. But perhaps a different department in the store could provide that accommodation.
I still recall an employee in San Francisco that insisted her headscarf was part of her religion and that she needed to be allowed to wear it. But California, in general, tends to go a little extreme in a number of ways.
Whole Foods typically requires all hats to be branded Whole Foods items so it’s clear the person is an employee.
In the end, we decided that allowing her to wear it, however bogus I thought her claim was about it being her religion, was “reasonable”.
Basically, pick your battles, and this one wasn’t worth my time.
What does an assistant store manager do?
An Assistant Store Manager, what Whole Foods called an Associate Store Team Leader, is basically a store manager in training.
They back up the store/general manager on decisions and bring hot button issues to the attention of the store manager. The assistant store manager might work more nights and weekends than the store manager.
But a good store manager will at least do 1 night each week and 1 weekend day each week.
Those are often the busiest times, so it’s important for anyone in a leadership role in a grocery store to not lose touch with those employees, customers, and overall flow of the business.
An ideal assistant store manager is someone who is on the path to become a store manager. But having said that, I do know several career assistant store managers who seem to be happy in that support role.
When I was an assistant store manager, I saw my role as:
- To make my boss’s job easier
- Deal with situations directly rather than running everything through the GM (which can be exhausting for them)
- Only run the really important stuff by the GM
- To ensure that all departments have the people and tools they need to serve the customers to the best of our ability
- Ensure that all the employees are happy and feel supported (a happier employee will give significantly better customer service)
- To be a floor captain rather than a desk jockey (be on the sales floor feeling the pulse of the customers and employees)
- To be the direct supervisor to the department managers
What does a store manager do?
A store manager sometimes called a General Manager, or at Whole Foods, a Store Team Leader is the main person in charge of the store.
For a chain grocery store, there are obviously district or regional managers, and people with titles like Regional President or Vice President. So the GM isn’t truly 100% in charge unless it’s a single-owner store. But they are in charge of the store on a day to day basis and responsible for all aspects of running the store including:
- Scheduling of administrative staff
- Hiring, firing, and disciplinary measures (doing themselves or ensuring another leader is following proper protocol)
- Being responsible for keeping labor costs in line with targets
- Ensuring the department managers are running their departments well
- Keeping up the cleanliness and visual appeal of the store (not doing all the work, but ensuring it gets done)
- Making sure all equipment is in good working condition (both for safety and employee happiness)
- Walking the store daily (ideally at opening) to ensure the store is at the highest standard for the customers
- Being responsible for profit and loss store-wide
As a Store Team Leader at Whole Foods, I really saw my job as making sure I hired the best people, gave clear expectations, ensured they had all the tools and training they needed and then got out of the way so they could do those things in their own way.
Store managers who insist on micromanaging the whole process often either fail or end up working 100 hours a week trying to get it all done. You also typically see much lower morale in a store where the team feels micromanaged or that the boss doesn’t trust them to their job without constant supervision.
Did I cover everything you wanted to know all the different positions in a typical grocery store?
In this article, we took a look at the typical positions in a grocery store.
We broke it down by department and explored the key differences between a small corner market and a large full-service supermarket.
Ultimately, we answered the question of what are the different positions in a supermarket?