California Craft Brewers Association Launches 401(k) Program for Member Breweries

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Citing “interest and support” from hundreds of breweries across the state, the California Craft Brewers Association has launched a 401(k) retirement program. The plan, dubbed the California Craft Brewers Retirement Benefits Solution, is available exclusively to CCBA brewery members and their employees, which number in the thousands.

“In a rapidly growing industry full of daily challenges, long hours and tight margins, it’s important for brewery owners to build an employee retention program,” said Tom McCormick, executive director of the CCBA, in a press statement. “We are excited to launch this benefit to help our industry continue to grow, mature and create jobs across the state.”

The CCBA has partnered with TAG resources, a 401(k) plan administration and oversight business, to offer the program. The organization said Merrill Lynch and Transamerica Retirement Solutions are facilitating the plan.

WHY IT MATTERS
Promises of “free beer!” can be found in just about every brewery job advert there is, and that’s great. Free beer rules, we all agree. That said, free beer means little when it’s time to trade in the old brewery-branded Carhartt shirt for an “I’d rather be fishing” tee. When that time comes, having some cash tucked away becomes more important than 40 years worth of bottomless brew.

Unfortunately, if a survey from FutureSense is to be believed, the brewing industry might not be as enthusiastic when it comes to offering the types of retirement benefits enjoyed by workers in other industries. Per the CCBA, citing the recent survey by FutureSense: “87% of the Southern California breweries surveyed did not offer retirement plans.”

But the demand seems to be there. Leia Ostermann, managing director of the CCBA, told GBH that, prior to launching the program, the organization collected “around 100 letters of intent from interested breweries across the state,” adding, “and many more verbally expressed interest in this type of program.”

“Overall,” Ostermann says, “we both identified a problem and a solution.”

The program is new, but it could theoretically cover hundreds of businesses. The CCBA is expected to announce this week that there are now 800 breweries operating in the state (a staggering figure, even taking into account California’s geographic enormity), and Ostermann says “nearly 70%” of those businesses are CCBA members.

San Diego’s Stone Brewing, the nation’s 10th largest craft brewer by volume in 2015, is one of them. And the company is filling the role of an early adopter, as it’s in midst of switching over from its current 401(k) plan to the one being offered by the CCBA.

Stone spokesperson Colleen Gatlin tells GBH “it is a better deal for our team and will also help fellow brewers in California get better rates for their companies.”

“The craft brewing industry has always been a close knit community and we continue to showcase this in the way we help each other and support our employees,” added Steve Wagner, Stone co-founder, in a press statement. “It’s been our honor to support the CCBA and the industry at large and we will continue to do so for years to come.”

Added McCormick: “The California craft brewing industry supported more than 55,000 jobs in the last year. It’s critical for us to take care of our members’ most precious asset: their employees.”

—Dave Eisenberg

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Craft beer industry shows its community support, launching retirement benefits program for breweries in California [California Craft Brewers Association]