Starbucks 401(k) Match Goes Discretionary

If the giant coffee retailer decides to fund a 2009 match, it may be at a different rate than currently used.

Giant coffee retailer Starbucks Corp. has informed employees it will switch to a “fully discretionary match” from a “fixed employer match” starting January 1 for its 401(k) plan.

The Wall Street Journal revealed the move in a news account which quoted a letter to employees sent last week. The Journal said the move allows the company more leeway in deciding whether to fund a match contribution in future years; the company said any 2009 match may be at a different rate than is currently used. The Journal said it saw the letter and company officials separately confirmed its contents.

“In order to invest and grow responsibly and profitably for the long term, we need to use our benefit dollars in a way that provides the most value to the greatest number of” employees, the letter says, according to the Journal. Starbucks plans to spend about $15 million on a 401(k) match this year, the newspaper said.

Despite the 401(k) match change, the newspaper quoted Starbucks spokeswoman Deb Trevino as saying the company continues to offer a total pay package, including health-care coverage that stands out from other retailers.

According to the news report, Starbucks currently matches between 25% and 150% of the first 4% of eligible workers pay, depending on how long they’ve worked for the company.

The chain has cut back labor at its coffee shops, is using fewer product suppliers and is shutting hundreds of weak stores in the U.S. Starbucks hopes the changes will take about $400 million of costs out of its system by next fall.

Last week, delivery company FedEx Corp. said it will stop contributing to employee retirement plans for at least a year. Telecommunications company Motorola Inc. also plans to freeze retirement contributions.