2020 PLAN SPONSOR OF THE YEAR
Corporate 401(k) >$250MM–$1B

Coca-Cola Bottlers Association

FINALIST
Stephanie Griffin
Senior Relationship Manager, Employee Benefits
  • Plan(s)
    401(k)
  • Total Plan Assets
    $775MM
  • Number of Participants
    16,000-plus
  • Participation Rate
    71%
  • Average Deferral Rate
    6%
  • Default Deferral Rate
    Not applicable
  • Default Investment
    Not applicable
  • Automatic Enrollment
    (some plans)
  • Automatic Escalation
    (some plans)
  • Employer Contribution
    Varies by plan, from 3% to 15% + some with true-up + profit sharing
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeeper, Wells Fargo; Adviser, AFS Advisors LLC
  • Financial Wellness Educator(s)
    AFS Advisors


This multiemployer plan has 40 unique subdivisions, in which 65 bottlers choose their own plan design, match rates, eligibility requirements, education, etc.

Providing tailored education and communication to more than 16,000 participants at 31 organizations is no simple task. But the multiemployer 401(k) plan sponsored by the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association (CCBA), headquartered in Atlanta, has it down to a science.

At the beginning of each year, CCBA kicks off with a preview call with all participating bottlers’ leadership teams about education for participants. Items regularly discussed will include resources and deliverables such as webinars, custom flyers and mailers, custom emails and topics for on-site education, explains Stephanie Griffin, senior relationship manager, employee benefits for CCBA.

“Then we go into what’s new. So that’s a time that if there was something in the year that the bottler needed and could be customized and applied to multiple bottlers, we would mention it in this preview call,” she explains. 

Individual bottlers range in size from as small as 10 participants to as large as 7,000. The group call is the perfect time to give bottlers ideas about what similar-size plans have done for their participants. 

“We try to complement the communication channels they already use and the timing that they already use for other benefits,” Griffin says. 

After the meeting, CCBA manages the educational plans for each individual bottler, which could include providing additional customized hard-copy and electronic messages or planning on-site meetings. 

Every other year, CCBA hosts a special 401(k) forum.

“We pick the location, and it’s an entire day dedicated to the 401(k)s,” Griffin says. “We’re heavy on education; we do a lot of testimonials and panel discussions with the bottlers on education, as well as trends in plan design and education. We get a lot of participation as well as a lot of good ideas in just that one-day meeting we have.”

The CCBA plan has a single fund lineup and qualified default investment alternative (QDIA) for all bottler divisions, but each bottler chooses its own plan design with regard to eligibility, employer contributions and vesting. Some bottlers have multiple designs due to union groups or legacy employees, so the plan also has 40 unique subdivisions. Bottlers offer contributions ranging from 3% to 15%, and many also provide profit sharing and annual true-up. 

More than half of the bottlers use automatic features, and more are adding those features every year. When, at the meetings, other bottlers share their positive experiences with auto-features—such as an increase in participation and no resistance from employees—it catches on.

“That goes a long way, to hear from fellow peer bottlers about what they’ve done and how it’s changed their plan,” Griffin says. 

Growth to the plan has been significant, with two bottlers already joining or in the process of joining this year. In total, there are 65 U.S. bottlers, “so there’s definitely an opportunity to see if the 401(k) is a good fit for those remaining bottlers,” she says. 

In comparison, in 2006 there were only 16 bottlers in the plan, says Eric Loyd, principal at AFS Advisors LLC. Especially since system refranchising, in 2015 through 2018, the plan has seen tremendous growth, expanding from $250 million in assets in 2016 to over $775 million last year.

As the plan grew, it was able to reduce fees by almost $1 million, Loyd says, with all 31 bottlers accepting institutional pricing as the new structure. CCBA also has been able to review and lower fees with recordkeeper Wells Fargo and other service partners to benefit participants, resulting in perks such as additional on-site education days through the recordkeeper. 

As for its next goals, the sponsor is looking for ways to further integrate financial wellness into retirement planning by taking a step back and addressing how to help employees reduce debt, for instance. In addition, “knowing the Wells Fargo platform is going away [the company sold its retirement and trust business to Principal Financial Group last year], we will be transitioning to a new platform in the future,” Loyd says.

Corie Hengst

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