The lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are a functionally related group of low-GC Gram-positive bacteria known essentially for their roles in bioprocessing of foods and animal feeds. Due to extensive industrial use and enormous economical value, LAB have been intensively studied and a large body of comprehensive data on their metabolism and genetics was generated throughout the years. This knowledge has been instrumental in the implementation of successful applications in the food industry, such as the selection of robust starter cultures with desired phenotypic traits. The advent of genomics, functional genomics and high-throughput experimentation combined with powerful computational tools currently allows for a systems level understanding of these food industry workhorses. The technological developments in the last decade have provided the foundation for the use of LAB in applications beyond the classic food fermentations. Here we discuss recent metabolic engineering strategies to improve particular cellular traits of LAB and to design LAB cell factories for the bioproduction of added value chemicals.