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NORTHFIELD, Ill. -- Like its famous macaroni and cheese, Kraft Foods Inc.'s benefits planner is a satisfying serving that's easy to digest.

The 77-page spiral-bound book, printed on thick, white glossy paper with many colorful accents, explains Kraft's numerous employee benefits.

The benefits planner begins by ex-plaining how different benefits might be appropriate for employees in different life phases. These phases, as outlined in the book, include: starting out, looking ahead, establishing yourself, approaching retirement and enjoying retirement.

For example, the book suggests that an employee just starting out may want to think about basic medical, dental and life insurance, purchasing dependent coverage for the first time and pursuing formal education to further his or her career. An employee looking ahead may want to think about preventive care, home expenses, child care expenses, balancing work and family and saving for a child's education. An employee approaching retirement may want to think about comprehensive medical and dental care, a second career, financial security and retirement planning.

A timeline that stretches across two pages illustrates which benefits may be helpful -- and when -- for employees traveling through the different phases.

The benefits planner was developed so that when employees "had a major life event, this would help them work through how their benefits would help them," commented Jill Youman, director of employee benefits for Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft. Ms. Youman was unavailable to comment directly; her comments were related by a spokeswoman.

The book is "structured to focus on employees' needs," said Derek Koch, a communications consultant in Watson Wyatt Worldwide's Chicago office who worked with Kraft on the project. The benefits planner is "really a great example of an employer bridging the gap between individual benefits and how employees should be thinking about their benefits. It gets to the use that the employer had intended for the benefits."

The benefits planner won Best of Show in the special project category of the 1997 Business Insurance Employee Benefits Communication Awards competition.

Kraft's specific benefit offerings are explained in three tabbed sections titled personal, career and future.

Each benefit is explained in a column titled "Kraft Choice Plans." Another column, "Considerations," details issues an employee should think about relating to that specific benefit.

Sections called "What's Next," highlighted with colored backgrounds, give employees a checklist of whom to call to find out more about the benefits or change elections. "Other Resources" lists other benefits communication materials that may be helpful.

Although the book is chock-full of useful information, the material is broken up by lots of white space; liberal use of headlines, columns, dividers and different type faces; and short, simple, jargon-free sentences. Accent colors include purple, teal, raspberry, cranberry, tan and blue.

Kraft "invests quite a bit in total compensation, and they wanted to, as much as possible, increase awareness with employees of what they offer," Mr. Koch said. Kraft wanted to get "employees to connect with the opportunities that are available."

Kraft chose to use a book, instead of another form of communication, because it is a piece "that would be around for a long time," Mr. Koch said.

The benefits planner is "the bible on benefits."

Ms. Youman said having a permanent benefits planner enables employees to get answers when they need them, even if they are at home after business hours. "We wanted employees to have easy access to answers to many general questions," she said.

Previously, the company used several publications to convey the material covered in the benefits planner.

The benefits planner resulted from a brainstorming session that Kraft's benefits staff held, Ms. Youman related. The benefits professionals discussed the questions they frequently were asked and decided that having one permanent publication that answered them all would be helpful.

The benefits planner "has been very successful," Ms. Youman said. The planner is available on Kraft's corporate Intranet and is the second most frequently used reference there, she added. The most frequently requested offering on the Intranet is company forms, she said.

The benefits planner, which cost $412,205, was distributed in September 1996 primarily through interoffice mail to Kraft's 37,000 employees at 68 locations.

The project took about five months from start to finish, according to Mr. Koch.