How Danone is raising employees’ pension awareness

16 February 2022


Food company Danone wants to help employees build up an attractive pension for later. It turned out that this required more than just a good pension scheme. Targeted communication is boosting pension awareness amongst employees.

The pension scheme for the more than 2,500 employees at Danone’s Dutch locations is attractive. And is fully funded by the employer. But only a few employees knew that until a few years ago. ‘Pension awareness was low,’ says HR Benefits manager Erik Stokhof of Danone Netherlands. ‘We wanted to improve that. Our employees must be able to make the right decisions regarding their income for later. That requires an understanding of the possibilities. Sending out a Uniform Pension Overview once a year is not enough.’

Search for a pension provider
Stokhof and his team had a clear wish list for a new pension administrator in 2019. The new provider had to offer effective pension communication: Danone takes its duty of care as an employer seriously and wants to increase employees’ pension awareness. Stokhof says: ‘Participants must be given sufficient insight into their accrued pension and their influence on it. For example, by adjusting the contributions or the investment risk. For us, BeFrank is the right party to engage our employees.’

The result: over 82% of employees have logged on to their personal pension page at BeFrank. The app is also widely used. This allows employees to view their pension accrual and other important information about their pension. Stokhof cites the user-friendliness of the online tools as an important benefit. ‘It’s all very clear and accessible. For example, with the option of logging in with your DigiD instead of yet another password.’

Employees in control
Many employees don’t just check their pension accrual. They make use of the opportunities to tailor the pension accrual as they wish. For example, by investing the pension contribution with less or more risk. Some also opt to invest the contribution themselves. ‘We are also seeing that employees are making extra contributions in order to accrue extra pension,’ says Stokhof. This is a positive development. ‘As an employer, you want your employees to build up sufficient income for later.’

Joint effort
The positive results at Danone are the result of joint efforts. Hanneke Geluk, Managing Consultant at BeFrank, says: ‘Together with Erik we immediately set up a programme to draw employees’ attention to pensions even more.’ Danone and BeFrank thus organised a series of presentations at various offices and the two production sites in the Netherlands. Employees were invited to participate through the intranet, e-mail and posters. It was a success: the meetings were well attended. However, COVID-19 did force a number of presentations to be held online.’

Stokhof says: ‘Pensions are a complex subject, but nobody wants a lengthy discourse. We briefly explained what has been arranged for people within the pension scheme and why we had opted for BeFrank. We then devoted most of the time to answering questions. Employees particularly want to know what possibilities the new scheme offers for adjusting their pensions. For more personal questions about issues such as value transfer and division of the pension in the event of a divorce, employees can always contact HR and BeFrank after the presentation.’

Pension communication in Dutch and English
All communication is tailored to the unique characteristics and requirements of the company. Because some of the employees work shifts, the sessions took place at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. In both Dutch and English, because a large number of Danone employees come from abroad. Presentations were also recorded and employees can watch them on the intranet. Stokhof says: ‘This is convenient in view of the time differences in the various regions such as Asia and the United States where a small proportion of our people work.’

Over the pension threshold
Geluk and Stokhof are planning to organise another series of presentations in the near future. Geluk says: ‘During the pension accrual period we will continue informing employees about their income for later; we call this the “road to retirement”. In addition to the presentations, the programme also includes a campaign to help employees literally cross the threshold to exploring their pension.’ Geluk says: ‘We place a 3-metre-long physical pension threshold in the hall of the office or factory. My colleagues are then ready with an iPad to help the employees log in to their personal pension page and answer their pension questions.’

Sustainable investment
The communication devotes a lot of attention to the possibility of investing the pension contributions sustainably at BeFrank. Employees can opt for sustainable funds from Triodos. These combine good financial results with positive environmental and social impact by investing in the most sustainable companies.

It quickly became clear that there was above-average interest in this amongst Danone’s employees. It fits with the sustainability efforts in which the company is investing all over the world. Hence the production site in Haps – where baby food is made – runs on renewable electricity. The factory also does not send any waste to landfill.

Stokhof says: ‘It’s good to see how many employees are opting for sustainable funds. People think that’s important. The app shows you the impact of your sustainable investments. The amount of water saved by the companies in which you are investing and the reduction in their waste is shown in saved showers and rubbish bags.’

Reducing the footprint
Geluk says: ‘Investing pension contributions sustainably has a big impact. Last year our customers collectively saved the equivalent of one billion road kilometres in carbon emissions.’ She emphasises that this fits with the trend of making sustainability goals part of the strategy, as happens at Danone. ‘A sustainable pension helps to reduce the company’s footprint. BeFrank collects the data on the carbon savings achieved so that companies can include it in their annual reports, as Danone does.’

Appreciation for the pension scheme
Stokhof is satisfied with the scheme. Two years after the switch, he has noticed in practice that employees’ knowledge of the pension scheme has increased. As has the appreciation for this employment benefit, which is costly for the employer. ‘It’s a good paid-up scheme, and it’s good that our employees recognise that. During the meetings, there was always someone who expected that the switch to a new pension scheme would “cost them money”. It’s good when you can show the true state of affairs and someone then says “It’s a good arrangement after all.”’

This article appeared on on 11 February.