OPERATIONS

Kroger ramps up employee benefits

BY Marianne Wilson

The Kroger Co. is increasing benefits for its employees as retailers continue to feel the pressure of a tight job market.

The supermarket giant on Monday announced several employee initiatives, including an education assistance program, accelerated investments in store associate wages, and a more generous 401(k) benefit. It also is enhancing associate discount and support programs. Last week, Kroger announced that is looking to fill 11,000 positions in its supermarket division, including almost 2,000 management jobs.

Under the new education program, called Feed You Future, Kroger and its subsidiaries will now offer full-and part-time associates an employee education benefit of up to $3,500 annually ($21,000 over the course of employment) toward continuing education and development opportunities including a high school equivalency exam, professional certifications and advanced degrees. Kroger said expects to increase by five times its total annual investment in employee education.

As part of the initiative, Kroger is also introducing a new educational leave of absence that allows associates to take time off work to focus on approved studies, while maintaining a role with the family of companies and their seniority.

“We care about our nearly half a million associates’ growth and development, and we believe investing in education will support and encourage lifelong learning and reinforce our ‘come for a job, stay for a career’ opportunity culture,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO. “We believe that making education benefits available to more associates and at more generous levels than ever before is the best way to support their future.”

Kroger is also increasing the company match for its 401(k) program to 5%, up from the existing 4%. It is expanding its employee discount program for associate shopping in its stores, and investing $5 million more into its Helping Hands program, an internal fund to aid associates who are going through hard times.

In order to increase starting wages and overall wage rates in certain markets, Kroger is utilizing the benefits of the recently tax cut to accelerate some of the previously-announced, incremental $500 million investment in associate wages, training and development during the next three years.

“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a catalyst that is enabling us to accelerate investments in Restock Kroger, our plan to serve America through food inspiration and uplift,” said McMullen. “Sharing the benefits of tax reform with our associates and customers will create a more sustainable and stronger business model to support Restock Kroger and beyond. This approach is also consistent with living our purpose: to Feed the Human Spirit.”

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