Employer profile: Coors Brewers

Coors Brewers uses employee feedback to revamp perks as it works to evolve the company’s culture, says Debbie Lovewell

The public would be forgiven for thinking that alcohol consumption is on the rise amid a flurry of newspaper headlines about teenage binge drinkers and excessive wine consumption among the middle classes. However, according to the Beer and Pub Association, total alcohol consumption in the UK is actually falling. Based on figures from the ONS report Smoking and drinking among adults 2006, it claims that average alcohol consumption is down by 15% from 2000.

The beer market, in particular, has been hit hard. Beer sales in pubs, including lager, are at their lowest level since the economic depression of the 1930s, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. It says pubs are now selling 14 million fewer pints a day than they did when sales reached their peak in 1979. Consumers’ increasing preference for wine and spirits, as well as rising beer prices due to spiralling manufacturing costs, are thought to be partly responsible for this downward trend.

Inevitably, this is placing considerable pressure on breweries, so much so, that the British Beer and Pub Association is openly calling on the government to place a freeze on beer duty in this year’s Budget report due later this month.

Coors, which became part of American brewing giant Molson Coors following a merger in 2005, took over the long-established Bass Brewers in 2002. It is now faced with overcoming the drop in alcohol consumption and is looking for ways to boost its sales of brands brewed in the UK such as Carling, Grolsch and Coors Light. Claire Sykes, director of compensation and benefits, explains: “Our challenge is growing our business in what is a very mature market. The UK beer market is declining and we would like to stop that but at the same time we need to grow our business as well. For us, that [is about] having the best people, the most talented people we can, so we can do our most to buck that trend.”

Since the takeover nearly six years ago, Coors has invested a great deal in rebranding the identity of the business and attempting to transform its culture. “We’re on a journey at the moment. We’ve come from historically being part of a very traditional British plc as part of Bass, but since being taken over by Coors five years ago, we’ve become part of a global brewer. The challenge for us is to move our culture to something that’s a bit more akin to what we do. Beer is something that’s very sociable and certainly we want to create a work culture, or people culture, that reflects that fun and sociability,” says Sykes.

Much of this change has centred on the principle of offering employees increased flexibility in their working lives. “We’re trying to move to valuing people as individuals. We have come from a place that’s very much about traditional benefits [and] a culture that’s very traditional and we want to move away from that, [by] offering people choice, [and] valuing the individual and what they actually want,” says Sykes, who has been with the business for more than 11 years.

This desire to alter the firm’s culture has extended into its approach to benefits. Previously, all employees received a core package of perks depending on their grade. Over the past year, however, the company has revamped its approach to benefits introducing a number of options designed to provide staff with greater choice. For example, it has launched a flexible benefits plan and introduced flexible working policies, such as sabbaticals for staff.

The flexible benefits scheme, which was implemented in January 2007, included benefits such as healthcare, a dental plan and holiday trading, that enables staff to buy or sell up to five days per year.

Sykes explains that flex was intended to better meet the needs of the company’s changing workforce demographics: “Our staff are [generally] quite long serving. We’ve got employees in the breweries who’ve been here thirty-odd years and a lot of those are coming up to retirement and the demographics of our business are changing quite a lot. So I think people appreciate the fact we are not simply giving them a package that they have to take, [but] they can actually choose. It’s [about] listening to what employees want and recognising the changes in our workforce.”

Staff feedback
However, it has taken time to work out how some of the perks can be integrated into the business. When flex was launched last year the company was unable to offer all employees access to holiday trading due to concerns about how it might affect production in its breweries. “We didn’t offer flexible holidays to [staff based] at the Burton Brewery last year, but we are introducing it this year. We wanted to take a bit of time to think how we could make it work in that environment. There’s always a bit of nervousness in a production environment. So we’ve taken some time to consult and think about how they can make it work and we’ve opened it up to production workers as well this year, which I think is great as we want to treat everybody the same,” she says.

Following the scheme’s launch, Coors Brewers carried out an employee opinion survey, called the Big Listen, which was aimed at identifying what staff thought of flex. As a result of employees’ feedback, it introduced several new benefits for the scheme’s second year, the enrolment period for which ran during January and February. Employees’ selections will then take effect in line with the new tax year.

The new additions to this year’s flexible benefits scheme include health screening and a salary sacrifice arrangement for the company’s group personal pension (GPP) plan. A voluntary benefits package was also added as result of employee feedback. “The big thing that came out last year was [staff] wanted access to certain benefits like discounts and shopping vouchers so we acted on that by putting a voluntary benefits package together, which we called ‘Deals on Draft’ to try to link it in [with the company’s business],” says Sykes.

Communicating perks
When it comes to communicating its benefits schemes, however, the company faces a number of challenges due to the nature of its workforce. As well as staff based at its head office, it also has a large number involved in production at its breweries and some travelling on the road, not all of whom have computer access. In order to overcome this, therefore, the majority of benefits communications are paper based, supported by the company’s intranet site.

Sykes adds that Coors is also in the process of issuing total reward statements for the first time, which will set out details of employees’ salary review, bonus, flexible options and benefits.

The overhaul of the brewer’s culture, brand identity and benefits package is thought to have had a positive impact on the business. Sykes believes, for example, that it has helped with employee recruitment and retention. “Moving away from being part of Bass and being called Bass Brewers, everybody knew us, we had a real identity. Being taken over by Coors, no one really knew the name of Coors in the UK. If you mentioned our brands, then people would straightaway identify with who we were, but [struggled to get] to grips with ‘what is Coors?’, so we have done a lot of work with creating our own employment brand and really tying flexibility in with that. I think those two [initiatives] coupled together have really helped with that in terms of recruitment. We’re starting to see an awareness of who we are. We’re starting to get an identity in the marketplace. That coupled with the flexibility we offer and the fun, social culture we’re trying to get across to people has paid off for us,” she explains.

But despite all that has been achieved so far, she adds that further changes are planned for the company’s benefits package. The next year, for example, will see a focus on health and wellbeing perks, as well a review of the organisation’s company car policy.

Sykes also hopes that the implementation of a new HR system will enable the company to offer more flexibility around its benefits, such as introducing further salary sacrifice arrangements around perks. “At the moment, we are on a very old system which doesn’t help us, but we are moving to SAP later this year, so we are hoping that will give us more opportunities. But certainly [we want] to carry on with this journey of flexibility, engagement and improving our culture. Whatever we need to do to do that, we will do,” she says.

With such a commitment to offering employees more flexibility in working patterns and benefits, along with a drive to change the culture of the business in order to attract new talent, it seems that Coors Brewers is prepared to do whatever it takes to weather the storm and come through the downturn in beer consumption.

Coors at a glance

American brewing company Molson Coors, established a foothold in the UK when Coors acquired Bass Brewers back in 2002.

Bass was able to trace its roots back to 1744 and 1777, when William Worthington and William Bass both started brewing businesses in Burton upon Trent. Staffordshire. These operated independently until merging in 1926.

During the 1960s, a series of mergers led to the creation of Bass Charrington, which at the time was the UK’s largest brewer. The organisation was subsequently rebranded as Bass plc in 1969.

In 2000, Bass was acquired by Belgian firm Interbrew, which sold the England and Wales-based business of Bass Brewers to Coors in 2002 to create Coors Brewers. In 2005, Coors merged with Molson to form Molson Coors.

Coors Brewers now produces brands such as Carling, Grolsch, Sol, Caffreys and Coors Light in the UK and employs 2,200 staff across the country in its head office, three breweries and four sales offices.

Career profile

Clair Sykes, director of compensation and benefits at Coors Brewers, didn’t arrive in compensation and benefits via a traditional route. Instead, she has come to the discipline following stints in finance, training and taxation.

She originally joined Bass in a tax role 11 years ago, before becoming the company’s head of tax. Five years ago, however, Sykes moved over to HR and is now responsible for compensation and benefits. “I was ready for a new challenge and it just seemed like something that would be interesting and challenging for me. I don’t see myself typically as an HR person, but compensation and benefits is a bit more about numbers, a bit more about analytics, a bit more about strategic thinking, so I found that quite interesting,” she explains.

Since moving over to reward, Sykes is particularly proud of the work she carried out around the introduction of the company’s flexible benefits scheme last year. “That is something that I’d certainly wanted to do for some time. We’d talked about it for many years and to actually see it brought to life last year was quite an achievement,” she explains.

Case study: Flexible policies promote fairness†

Nicky Harrold, who has worked as Coors Brewers’ treasury manager for the past five years, particularly values the opportunity to purchase additional holiday entitlement through the company’s flexible benefits scheme.

“I love going on holiday and spending time with my family. I’m a keen walker and scuba diver so that allows me to go on a couple more long holidays. In the past, I’ve purchased an extra five days a year,” she explains.

As a manager, Harrold also appreciates the company’s flexible working policies, which were introduced last year. “I think it’s formalised some of the agreements that have been in place with decent line managers for a long time. As a line manager, I’ve got about 12 people in my team, so I have to juggle a lot of peoples’ work-life balance – people with children, people who look after parents who are ill – and it’s handy to have something in place that can be formalised to allow that,” she says.

She adds that the scheme also means staff perceive they are all being treated fairly.

What are the key benefits?

• Defined benefit scheme, which is closed to new members.
• A group personal pension into which contributions can be made by staff via a salary sacrifice arrangement that forms part of the organisation’s flexible benefits scheme.†

• Private medical insurance. Single cover provided to all staff, with additional levels of cover offered depending on employees’ grade.
• Dental plan and health screening offered through flex.
• Employee assistance programme.†

• 31 days plus three bank holidays as standard. Employees can buy or sell up to five days a year through the flexible benefits scheme.†

Voluntary benefits
• Discounts on products such as holidays, entertainment and retail vouchers offered through the ‘Deals on Draft’ scheme.†

Work-life balance
• Formal arrangements to enable staff to work flexibly when required.
• Sabbaticals.†

Performance-related pay
• For all non-unionised employees.