River Beverages’ Budgeting Process
River Beverages is a food and soft-drink company with worldwide operations. The company is organized into five regional divisions with each vice president reporting directly to the CEO, Cindy Wilkins. Each vice president has an R&D department, controller, and three divisions; carbonated drinks, juices and water, and food products. Management believes that the structure works well for River Beverages because different regions have different tastes and the division’s products
complement each other. River Beverages’ company wide and divisional organization charts are shown here.
Vice President Vice President Vice President Vice President Vice President
Strategic research Team
Division Manager, Division Manager, Division Manager,
Carbonated Drinks Juices & Water Food Products
Operations Manager. Maintenance Manager. Quality Control Manager.
Division Sales Manager
District Manager. Distrcit Manager. Distrcit Manager.
NOTE: Plant Manager and Divisional Sales Manager are side by side in actual.
The US beverage industry has become mature with its growth matching population growth. In one recent year alone, consumers drank about 50 billion gallons of fluids. Most of the industry growth has come from the nonalcoholic beverage market, which is growing by about 1.1 percent annually. In the nonalcoholic arena, soft drinks are the largest segment, accounting for 53.4 percent of the beverages consumed. Americans consume about 26 billion gallons of soft drinks, ringing up retail sales of $50 billion every year. Water (bottled and tap) is the next largest segment, representing 23.7 percent of the
market. Juices represent about 12 percent of the beverages consumed. The smallest but fastest-growing segment is ready to-drink teas, which is growing by more than 91 percent in volume but accounts for less than 1 percent of the beverages consumed.
Susan Johnson, plant manager at River Beverages’ non-carbonated drink plant in St. Louis, recently completed the annual budgeting process. According to Johnson, division managers have decision-making authority in their business units except for capital financing activities. Budgets keep the division managers focused on corporate goals. At the beginning of December, division managers submit a report to the vice president for the region summarizing capital, sales, and income
forecasts for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Although the initial report is not prepared with much detail, it is prepared carefully because it is used in the strategic planning process.
Next, the strategic research team begins a formal assessment of each market segment in its region. The team develops sales forecasts for each division and compiles them into a company forecast. The team considers economic conditions and current market share in each region. Management believes the strategic research team is effective because it is able to integrate division products and more accurately forecast demand for complementary products. In addition, the team ensures continuity of assumptions and achievable sales goals.
Once the corporate forecast has been completed, the district sales managers estimate sales for the upcoming budget year. The district sales managers are ultimately responsible for the forecasts they prepare. The district sales forecasts are then compiled and returned to the division manager. The division manager reviews the forecast but cannot make any revisions without discussing the changes with the district sales managers. Next, the strategic research team and the division controller review the district sales forecasts. Finally, top management reviews each division’s competitive position; including plans to increase market share, capital spending, and quality improvement plans.
After top management approves the sales budget, it is separated into a sales budget for each plant. Plant location is determined by product type and where the product needs to be distributed. The budget is broken down further by price, volume, and product type. Plant managers budget contribution margins, fixed costs, and pretax income using information from the plant sales budget.
Budgeted profit is determined by subtracting budgeted variable costs and budgeted fixed costs from the sales forecast. If actual sales fall below forecasts, the plant manager is still responsible for achieving the budgeted profit. One of the most important aspects of the plant budgeting process is that plant managers break the plant budget down into various plant departments. Operations and maintenance managers work together to develop cost standards and cost-reduction targets for all departments. Budgeted cost reductions from productivity improvements, unfavorable variances, and facility-level costs are developed for each department, operation, and cost center in the plant. Before plant managers submit their budgets, a member of the strategy team and the regional controller visit the plant to keep corporate management in touch with what is happening at the plant level and to help corporate management understand how plant managers determine their budgets. The visits also allow corporate management to provide budget preparation guidance if necessary. The visits are especially important because they force plant management to keep in touch with corporate-level managers. The final budgets are submitted and consolidated by April 1. The vice president reviews them to ensure that they are in line with corporate objectives. After all changes have been made by the vice presidents and the chief executive officer (CEO), the budgets are submitted to the board of directors for approval. The board votes on the final budget in early June.
The corporate office generates variance reports monthly. River Beverages has a sophisticated information system that automatically generates reports based on input downloaded daily from each plant. Managers in the organization also can manually generate the reports. Most managers generate variance reports several times during the month, allowing them to solve problems before the problems get out of control. Corporate management reviews the variance reports, looking closely at over budget variance problems. Plant managers are questioned only about over budget items. Management believes that this ensures that the plant managers are staying on top of problem areas, and that this keeps the plants operating as efficiently as possible. One week after the variance reports are generated, plant managers are required to submit a response outlining the causes of any variances and how they plan to prevent the problems in the future. If a plant
manager has repeated problems, corporate management might send a specialist to the plant to work with the plant manager to solve the problems.
Sales and Manufacturing Relations
“We are expected to meet our approved budget,” remarked Kevin Greely, a division controller at River Beverages. “A couple years ago, one of our major restaurant customers switched to another brand. Even though the restaurant sold over one million cases of our product annually, we were not allowed to make revisions to our budget.”
Budgets are rarely adjusted after approval. However, if sales decline early in the year, plant managers might file an appeal to revise the budgeted profit for the year. If sales decline late in the year, management usually does not revise the budgeted amounts but asks plant managers to cut costs wherever possible and delay any unnecessary expenditure until the following year. Remember that River Beverages sets budgets so it is able to see where to make cuts or where it can find any operating inefficiencies. Plant managers are not forced to meet their goals, but they are encouraged to cut costs below budget.
The sales department is primarily responsible for product price, sales volume, and delivery timing while plant managers are responsible for plant operations. As you might imagine, problems occur between plant and regional sales managers from time to time. For example, rush orders could cause production costs to be higher than normal for some production runs. Another problem could occur when a sales manager runs a promotional campaign that causes margins to shrink. In both
instances, a plant manager’s profit will be affected negatively while a sales manager’s sales will be affected positively. Such situations are often passed up to the division level for resolution; however, the customer is always the primary concern.
River Beverages’ management has devised what it thinks is an effective system to motivate plant managers. First, plant managers are promoted only when they have displayed outstanding performance in their current position. Second, monetary incentives reward plant managers for reaching profit goals. Finally, charts produced monthly display budgeted items versus actual results. Although not required to do so, most plant managers publicize the charts and use them as a
motivational tool. The charts allow department supervisors and staff to compare activities in their department to similar activities in other plants around the world.
Cindy Wilkins, CEO of River Beverages, looks to the future and comments, “Planning is an important aspect of budget preparation for every level of our organization. I would like to decrease the time spent on preparing the budget, but I believe that it keeps people thinking about the future. The negative aspect of the budgeting process is that sometimes it over controls our managers. We need to stay nimble enough to react to customer demands while staying structured enough to achieve corporate objectives. For the most part, our budget process keeps our managers aware of sales goals and alerts
them when sales or expenses are off track.”
This is what I want to be able to do for a company:
Discuss each step in River Beverages’ budgeting process. Begin with the division manager’s initial reports and end with the board of directors’ approval. Is each step necessary? Explain.
Evaluate River Beverages’ responsibility-accounting system. Specifically, should the plant managers be held responsible for costs or profits? Why?
Write a report to River Beverages’ management stating the advantages and disadvantages of the company’s budgeting process. Start your report by stating your assumption(s) about what River Beverages’ management wants the budgeting process to accomplish.