Drinks sector offers share schemes and flex

Relaxing with a drink after work is unlikely to cost drinks sector workers a penny. But Neil Merrick also uncovers share schemes and flexible benefits among the brewery giants

Case Studies: SA Brain, Bacardi-Martini

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Alcohol is never far from people’s minds when they work for breweries, distillers and alcoholic drinks firms. But it seems employers are careful to ensure that employees always take their work home with them and are not tempted to indulge during working hours.

Most manufacturers of alcoholic drinks offer employees some form of product allowance that entitles them to free or discounted booze.

Burton-on-Trent-based Coors Brewers (previously Bass) awards all its 3,000 staff points each quarter that entitle them to about £400 of free beer per year. They also receive discounts on other company products. But the firm strictly states that no alcohol can be consumed on-site or during company time.

Bacardi-Martini, which employs 500 people at its Southampton headquarters, meanwhile, presents employees with nine bottles of spirits at Christmas and further spirits, along with a card, on their birthday. It also holds occasional sessions looking at tasting techniques.

But the firm is adamant about not allowing alcohol to be consumed on-site, with all employees taught about social responsibility at their induction. Colleen Potter, employee engagement manager, says: "A lot of the things we do are quite social because of the business we’re in. But we are strict in educating people [about alcohol] and strongly discourage binge drinking."

With the exception of free or discounted alcohol, perks are pretty scarce in much of the drinks industry. Company cars are normally confined to senior managers and other essential users, while final salary pension schemes are being phased out for new staff.

Claire Sykes, head of reward at Coors Brewers, says the fact that it still offers a final salary pension to new starters makes it an attractive employer in the current pensions climate. The company also runs a bonus scheme, based on its market share and annual growth, and offers childcare vouchers, although the take-up is fairly limited.

According to Sykes, the benefits package is less important than opportunities to move-on in the firm. So employees are given regular appraisals and offered in-house training, as well as the chance to gain external qualifications such as MBAs.

With many drinks firms either small family-owned businesses, or part of large multinationals, share schemes are not especially common. Greene King, however, offers a share incentive plan (Sip), based on shares awarded in line with annual profits, and a sharesave scheme.

Both schemes are more than ten years old. A safety manager who had been saving shares for eight years recently cashed in enough to buy a new Mondeo car. John Roberts, group HR director, says: "We are giving people a stake in the company. Our share price has performed well over the past few years. The [share] schemes allow employees to share in our success."

Since 1997, Greene King’s 350 managers have had the opportunity to flex their benefits, including private medical insurance (PMI), holidays and pension contributions. A free beer allowance for general employees was scrapped the same year, but still applies to staff with more than eight years’ service.

More recently, the company has introduced a home computing scheme and a tax-free bike plan, although the take-up for each has been fairly modest. According to Roberts, Greene King wants to keep ahead of competitors by constantly reviewing its benefits package. "If we want to stay competitive, or become more competitive, we have to create a level playing field," he explains.

While staff working at Greene King’s Bury-St-Edmunds site already receive discounts for a local gym and shops, Roberts is keen to explore the possibility of providing more voluntary benefits. "You have to make your benefits package seem alive by refreshing it and dropping in new things. We spend a lot of money on benefits and want to get the value back in terms of recruitment and retention."

Scottish & Newcastle also operates employee share schemes. Its shavesave scheme allows its 4,500 UK staff to invest up to £125 per month. The company provides one free share for every two bought by employees. Most staff either take part in this, or in a share option scheme, under which they may invest up to £250 per month.

Employees also receive performance-related share allocations. An S&N spokesman, says: "Unless someone has only been with the company for a couple of months, they are very unlikely not to have shares. It makes people at all levels more aware of the importance of company performance and they see cost-based decisions in a different light. It’s extremely healthy."

Cars are provided for technical staff who require them for work, while senior staff receive a car allowance. And all employees are eligible for PMI, which can be topped up to cover a spouse and family.

Offering management staff the opportunity to flex their benefits is a trend in this sector. It is one that Scottish & Newcastle follows, enabling senior manager to flex their car allowance, as well as PMI, holidays, pension and life assurance. They also receive a performance-related bonus, based on the company’s showing in the UK and internationally, as well as on a manager hitting individual targets. This is aimed at helping the firm to measure both individual and company performance.

Sales staff, meanwhile, are covered by a range of incentives and bonuses, and all employees receive a free case of beer each month, with the opportunity to purchase other company products at a discount. Scottish & Newcastle has also negotiated discounts with British Midland and other regional airlines.

InBev (formerly Interbrew) also offers discounts to staff, giving its 3,000 employees vouchers that can be spent on its own products, including Stella and Becks, at Threshers’ stores. And staff at its Luton site receive a discount if they join the local David Lloyd Leisure club.

It also runs a bonus scheme based on individual and company performance. Tresna Piper, manager of people support services, says: "It’s a split bonus based on individual objectives for the year and how the company performs. Individuals work towards a team element and impact on overall performance."

Edinburgh-based distiller Glenmorangie also offers bonuses based on company performance alongside perks such as PMI, life assurance and disability insurance. Its final salary pension scheme was closed to new staff two years ago.

The company also runs an employee advantage scheme offering staff cut-price travel and health insurance along with discounts on gym membership and in high street stores. Ian Drysdale, HR director, says: "It’s run at no cost to the company but is a benefit to employees."

A car wash and valet service is available on site, although staff pay the full cost. And selected employees receive company vehicles.

While some employees are more interested in training and promotion opportunities than benefits, Glenmorangie is careful to remain aware of what is on offer elsewhere. "You have to be competitive in the marketplace to attract the best staff. We have pitched our benefits at a competitive level," explains Drysdale.

Case Study: Bacardi-Martini

When staff at Bacardi-Martini reach the age of 50, they are given the opportunity to look to the future and plan for when they are no longer in work.

Employees and their partners normally attend a retirement education weekend at a local hotel where they can talk to experts about issues such as financial security as well as personal relationships. Colleen Potter, employee engagement manager, says: "It helps them to prepare for retirement."

The firm also models itself as a family-friendly employer. In addition to job-sharing arrangements, annualised hours and home-working for some employees, Bacardi-Martini offers maternity and paternity pay and leave over and above the statutory minimum. "It’s a reflection of the culture of the business. We are a privately-owned family business and have always adopted a family-values approach."

Employees have access to a company gym, an internet caf» and an on-site learning centre where, in addition to business-related courses, staff can study, in their own time, anything from a language to aromatherapy.

Onsite dry cleaning and car valeting are available at a discount. There is also a 24-hour advice line for employees who, if necessary, may receive up to three months counselling paid for by the company.

"We are not just looking to retain and motivate our employees but their families as well. It’s not just the employees that walk through the door each day. They bring part of their family life as well," says Potter.

The firm tries to encourage loyalty by offering long-service awards in the form of vouchers, starting at £200 for staff with ten years’ service. Managers sometimes organise ‘surprise and delight’ recognition events, such as free ice creams or lottery tickets.

Case Study: SA Brain

It is less than one year since brewer SA Brain set up a flexible benefits scheme for employees at its Cardiff headquarters, and already the company is looking to expand it.

The existing plan is available to about 400 managers, production staff, warehouse staff and drivers – two-thirds of whom opted to join when it launched in January.

During the next few months, the scheme will be reviewed to see whether they could increase the range of benefits on offer and encourage more staff to take part.

Employees can already buy or sell up to five days of holiday, starting from a basic 25 days and senior staff, in particular, have been keen to buy extra days off.

A long-established free product allowance of 26 crates of beer and 12 crates of soft drinks per year can also be flexed in favour of wines and spirits, or vouchers to spend in the company’s inns. Just under half of employees in the plan have chosen to take vouchers. A quarter of staff have opted for a home computer or laptop, taking advantage of tax and national insurance breaks that also benefit SA Brain. Other benefits include childcare vouchers, private medical insurance covering a partner and family, and retail vouchers offering up to 9% discounts.

Stewart Riddle, information analyst in Brain’s HR department, says that any money it saves will be ploughed back into further perks: "We are not cost-cutting."