CINCINNATI, April 16, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) today announced new and enhanced long-term associate benefits following the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including an industry-leading education assistance program called Feed Your Future, accelerated investments in store associate wages, a more generous 401(k) benefit, and enriched associate discount and support programs.
"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 Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and CEO. "We intend to make significant investments in our associates, to continue redefining the customer experience, and to return value to our shareholders – sharing the benefit with all of our stakeholders in a balanced way.
"I am especially excited to introduce Feed Your Future, Kroger's new, industry-leading continuous learning and education benefit. Many of our associates can attest to the life-changing power of education, and I'm proud to be one of them. Feed Your Future will support both full- and part- time associates, wherever they are on their personal education journey, whether they are pursuing GEDs, MBAs or professional certifications. In this way, we're offering more than a one-time award – we're offering an investment in our associates' future.
"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."
Feed Your Future: Embracing the Life-Changing Power of Education
Lower federal taxes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have enabled Kroger to introduce Feed Your Future – an education program to encourage lifelong learning and strengthen the company's opportunity culture.
Kroger and its subsidiaries will now offer 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.
Under the new benefit, Kroger expects to increase by five times its total annual investment in employee education. And in addition to a more generous individual and lifetime benefit, Feed Your Future will now cover all full- and part-time associates following six months of employment.
"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 Mr. McMullen. "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."
As part of Feed Your Future, 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.
Raising Starting and Overall Wages for Store Associates
In order to increase starting wages and overall wage rates in certain markets, Kroger is utilizing the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to accelerate some of the previously-announced, incremental $500 million investment in associate wages, training and development over the next three years as part of Restock Kroger.
Last month in Cincinnati, for example, Kroger associates ratified a labor agreement with UFCW Local 75 that set the stage for starting wage and overall wage increases in multiple markets across the country. The agreement raised starting wages to at least $10 per hour, and accelerated wage progressions to $11 an hour after one year of service, for store associates in the Cincinnati/Dayton area. Those wage increases went into effect on April 1.
Supporting Associates' Financial Well-Being – Today and in Retirement
To support associates' financial well-being, Kroger and its subsidiaries will increase the company match in the 401(k) Plan to 5% of pay, compared to a 4% match today.
The family of companies is also making its associate discount of 10% off Our Brands products a more consistent benefit across supermarket banners, which will apply to more associates and in more locations than before. This new commitment will expand on the existing associate discount for Our Brands products, which allowed associates to save $53 million in 2017 alone. New associate discounts on general merchandise, home, apparel, and jewelry are also being offered.
Helping Hands: More Help in Times of Need
Kroger's long-standing Helping Hands program, an internal support fund that aids associates during hardships, will receive an additional $5 million in funding and be easier to use across the family of companies.
"It is a point of great pride for Kroger that we are part of the fabric of our communities, and our associates always step up to take care of our customers, neighbors and each other in times of need," said Mr. McMullen. "Helping Hands is just one example of how at Kroger we show care every day and uplift each other in every way – especially when people need it most."
Last fall, as part of the Helping Hands program, Kroger awarded $700,000 in financial grants to support 1,100 associates enduring hurricane-related hardships.
"At Kroger, we are thrilled to have a talented, diverse and unique workforce," said Tim Massa, group vice president of human resources & labor relations. "We care about our associates, and we took the time to thoughtfully consider how to live our purpose and offer meaningful, personalized benefits while helping individuals, families and communities thrive today and in the future."
All of these investments were contemplated in previously-announced guidance.
At The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR), we are dedicated to our Purpose: to Feed the Human Spirit™. We are nearly half a million associates who serve nine million customers daily through a seamless digital shopping experience and 2,800 retail food stores under a variety of banner names, serving America through food inspiration and uplift, and creating #ZeroHungerZeroWaste communities by 2025. To learn more about us, visit our newsroom and investor relations site.