START UP: It is likely that few people have heard of Dawn Food Products, a global $2 million company of 2,500 full-time employees, headquartered in Jackson, Michigan. But many know the company indirectly—it makes the dry mixes for Weight Watchers’ Brownie Bites, Walmart’s finished cakes, end even cakes used in the television program “Cake Boss,” among other products.

Eight years ago, Brian Coleman, director of benefits, compensation, human resources information system (HRIS) and payroll, joined Dawn Foods and proceeded to do what he calls “a retirement plan startup.” His goals fit into the culture of this 95-year-old, family-run company, which believes in the “Dawn Circle of Excellence” as its guide. The circle—people, products and customers—emphasizes people at the top. “Our goal is to help our team members achieve the financial success they desire in their lives,” Coleman says.

Dawn uses a large seasonal population of workers in various production and distribution centers across the U.S. Part of taking care of all team members means that part-time, temporary and seasonal employees are eligible to enroll in the company’s 401(k) plan, for purposes of safe harbor matching contributions. They need just have reached age 18, completed six months of service and worked regularly scheduled service of more than 1,000 hours per period. The company’s overall participation rate is 61.5%, greatly due to its inclusion of seasonal workers in the eligibility pool, Coleman notes.

For pre-retirees, Dawn became an early adopter of lifetime income for participants in its 401(k) plan. “We feel our members, today and in the future, face many risks. Among them is the need to create a reliable stream of income that replaces their paycheck and supports their financial needs throughout retirement,” says Coleman.

In 2012, the company added Prudential’s IncomeFlex investment to its lineup and began defaulting participants ages 55 and older into the option. Approximately 20% of plan assets are invested in this fund today, and around 50 to 100 employees between 65 and 75 years old are enrolled.

Most recently, Dawn Foods integrated auto-enrollment into its plan design and undertook a re-enrollment, resulting in seven times as many participants as before in the qualified default investment alternative (QDIA). Creative education methods increased participation by 9% from 2013 through 2014, with a 2.67% increase in deferrals. Also, after benchmarking plan costs, Dawn switched to Prudential as its recordkeeper. That change, and moving to lower-cost share class funds, reduced plan costs by 50%. “We add a benefit every year,” says Coleman. “We have a whole treasure trove of benefits, even when people retire.”

 —Judy Faust Hartnett

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