THREE Hampshire companies are celebrating after ranking highly as the best companies to work for.

Free meals for staff as well as health insurance and non-contributory pensions helped Bacardi Martini, which has a bottling plant in Southampton docks employing 530 people, retain a foothold in the top ten.

Health plan providers HSA, which employs 803 people in its Andover headquarters, jumped from 42 on the list last year to 13th nationally and seventh locally.

Staff socials, performance related pay and dress down Fridays propelled Winchester's Denplan dental insurance providers into the top 20 for the first time.

Last year the makers of Bacardi rum and Bombay Sapphire gin were ranked at fifth, but despite offering an Internet caf, Christmas packs, free car parking, and a subsidised gym, saw its ranking slip to ninth nationally and third in the south-east.

It is the fifth consecutive year the drinks giant has been in the top ten of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for, which ask staff to rate their employer.

Eighty two per cent of employees said they can make a difference at Bacardi-Martini and 91 per cent said they were proud of their workplace, one of the highest scores in the survey.

John Beard, CEO of Bacardi-Martini UK said: "To be in the top ten for the fifth consecutive year is a huge accolade to everyone here at Bacardi-Martini. A great workplace environment breeds a highly-motivated happy workforce."

Former UK Bacardi boss Stella David, who moved on in December last year, was handed the Lifetime Achievement award. A whopping 85 per cent of staff said they had faith in her, with 83 per cent adding that she had inspired them. Stella said: "I am delighted to receive this award on behalf of all the people who have worked so hard at Bacardi-Martini to make this business such a terrific place to work in."

HSA's attitude to the work-life balance was an area that was especially commended, with more than 75 per cent of staff reporting a happy work/life balance. HSA also was presented a special award for "Giving Something Back", reflecting involvement in local schemes such as cleaning up a polluted river.

HSA boss Des Benjamin said: "We believe it is unlocking the potential of the individual that is key to what we do and who we are."

Denplan, which employs 332, was ranked tenth locally and 17th nationally. A spokesman said: "We have seen a vast improvement going from 23rd last year and we hope to go even higher next year."