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Chocolate-making jobs on the decline

February 13, 2014: 1:27 PM ET

If Lucy and Ethel had filmed their iconic chocolate-making scene in 2013, it wouldn't have been nearly as funny. Machines are doing more of the labor these days.

If takes fewer workers to make your Valentine's Day chocolates these days.

Americans consume about 5.5 pounds of cocoa beans a year, about the same as they did 20 years ago. Meanwhile, American jobs producing the candy have been on the decline.

In 1990, about 54,000 Americans worked at facilities making chocolate candy, but now only 38,000 do.


The decline reflects two broader trends playing out in the manufacturing industry: Technology is eliminating jobs and producers have shifted some work overseas.

"Producers from Hershey to Nestlé to Mars, are increasingly relying on computers and robotics to create products more efficiently – they're relying less on physical labor," said Hester Jeon, an IBISWorld analyst who specializes in covering food retailers and producers.

Related: Why chocolate will never taste the same again

In 2012, Hershey's -- the single largest American producer of chocolate confections -- invested $300 million in a new state-of-the-art technology that can produce products 24/7. A highly automatized production line in one of its Pennsylvania facilities can make 70 million Hershey's Kisses a day. The company said it trained 700 employees to work with the new high-tech machinery.

"They still need to workers to oversee the process and control the computers," Jeon said, "but they don't need as many people to wrap products."

To a lesser extent, some jobs are also moving abroad. When Hershey's closed down an Oakdale, Calif., facility in 2008, it moved production to a facility in Mexico. An estimated 600 Americans lost their jobs.

Chicago is now the top metropolitan area for chocolate-making jobs, with San Francisco and Pennsylvania cities Scranton and Reading  next on the list, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Meanwhile, average wages for chocolate jobs have remained flat over the last two decades, after adjusting for inflation. The highest weekly wages in the chocolate business are in San Francisco, which has a high cost of living.

Chocolate workers in Scranton make an average of $1,068 a week -- roughly $55,500 a year -- if they work full-time. That's not too shabby for factory work, but note that the average includes workers of all levels, ranging from entry-level to factory managers and supervisors.


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About This Author
Annalyn Censky
Annalyn Kurtz
Writer, CNNMoney

Annalyn Kurtz is a senior writer at CNNMoney, where she covers America's jobs crisis, Federal Reserve policy and other economic news. Before joining the site in 2010, she served as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Prague and interned at Fortune Small Business magazine. @annalynkurtz

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