CINCINNATI – The Kroger Co. announced new and enhanced long-term associate benefits following the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including an 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.”
McMullen continued that Feed Your Future will support both full- and part- time associates, “wherever they are on their personal education journey.” 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.
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 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 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."
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.
Kroger is also utilizing the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to accelerate some of its previously announced, incremental $500 million investment in associate wages, training and development over the next three years. 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.
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 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."