From employee initiatives to welfare in the supply chain, looking after people is becoming big business, finds Nigel Huddleston
The discourse around sustainability in the drinks industry usually revolves around the tangible and material aspects of being green, such as energy consumption and packaging.
But companies are increasingly recognising that commitments to improving the work experiences of their employees can make an important contribution to the long-term sustainability of the business, with benefits including improved staff retention and easier recruitment.
Historically, a people-centric approach has focused on pay and holidays, but other aspects are now receiving more attention. Rebecca Murphy, sustainability manager at De Bortoli and Reh Kendermann importer North South Wines, says it takes the temperature of the company through regular staff satisfaction surveys and has policies on a wide range of aspects, including the menopause and ergonomics.
Routine benefits include enhanced parental leave, private health insurance and access to counselling. North South’s management team has completed a mental health skills course to ensure a basic understanding of the subject and how best to support team members.
“We have redesigned our performance review process with career progression in mind and made additional changes to tackle diversity and inclusivity,” Murphy adds. “Team members have access to a free gym at the office, an electric car scheme and a cycle-to-work scheme.”
Murphy says all this “has helped in employee retention and recruitment, with our most recent additions citing our sustainability focus as one of the key reasons they applied for their roles”.
North South is B Corp-certified, as is the mindful drinking organisation Club Soda, whose chief executive Laura Willoughby says: “Many alcohol-free brands are gaining B Corp certification and a big focus on this is staff welfare and workers’ rights. “You can’t get certification without scoring highly in this section of the assessment.”
Willoughby says several alcohol-free brands see staff welfare as an integral element of their approach to business, including the spirit brand Caleño. Its approach includes flexibility around things such as nursery pick-ups and dog walks, in addition to enhanced parental leave.
Charlie Jackson, HR manager & employee trust director at Kingsland Drinks, says the company has partnered with the Drinks Trust to access wellbeing resources as part of a wider programme that includes access to confidential counselling and the deployment of mental health first aid champions.
Jackson says: “We work with a doctor of psychology to support our members with any mental health concerns they may have.
“These sessions are paid for by the business and it’s been a great help to some members who have needed additional support.”
She adds: “We understand the importance of work-life balance and offer flexible arrangements, such as hybrid working or flexible schedules.
“We have become 51% employee-owned, which means that members have a say in the business goals and we obtain feedback from them through voice group ambassadors.
“Involving them in decision-making processes and encouraging their feedback helps create an environment where they feel valued and engaged.
“When people feel supported, they are more likely to stay with the company long term and contribute to its success.”
Kingsland also says it has done work to be “disability confident” and delivered equality and diversity training.
Dom de Ville, The Wine Society’s director of sustainability & social impact, says that “caring for colleagues and ensuring the right policies, pay and benefits are in place is crucial for our business, both to retain current employees and attract new and diverse talent”.
He adds: ““We have an engaged and committed wellbeing team, comprising representatives from around our business.
“They highlight and signpost the many support channels available for mental health wellbeing and share and encourage testimonials via the internal social media platform and in person. We offer subsidised food in the refurbished canteen and each morning colleagues are offered free fresh fruit to start their day.”
Drinks firms are also taking an outward look in their approach to people.
Magners cider firm C&C Group recently appointed six members of staff as a result of a partnership with Big Issue Recruit, an organisation that helps people who face barriers in accessing ongoing employment. The partnership is intended to extend to 45 people by 2025. The six initial recruits include a warehouse operative who fled the war in Ukraine with his family last year.
North South Wines allows staff 20 paid hours a year to work with a chosen community group or charity.
The Co-op – already the world’s biggest retailer of Fairtrade wines – increased its commitment last year in an industry first to make all of its South African wines Fairtrade and invested in the Fairroots start-up winery to build an education centre and provide environmental and financial training.
South African producer DGB Wines supports educational projects and entrepreneurial schemes in the communities in which it operates, including a programme to equip disabled young people with basic life skills.
UK suppliers are also looking at ethical practices down their supply chains. Jackson at Kingsland says: “We ensure all suppliers are signed up to [sustainability analysis agency] Sedex and ask them to sign up to the Ethical Trading Initiative base code. “This ensures we are holding our suppliers accountable for their responsibilities within the industry.”