As managing director of bakery wholesaler Kluman & Balter, Lawrence Watson wants to make the everyday extraordinary.
Watson joined the business nearly five years ago and says he was “incredibly fortunate” to follow the fourth generation of the Kluman family in leading the business. He was brought on board shortly after the company was acquired by global chemical distribution giant Brenntag.
“In the time I’ve been here, we’ve overseen a significant transition in the business,” he tells British Baker. “We’ve grown sales in key markets, we’ve brought a host of new talent in to mix with the incredible sea of rich talent that already existed within the business. In addition, we’ve invested significantly both in a new development facility in Manchester and some of the equipment and plant we used within that facility to ensure we remain at the forefront of innovation.”
The managing director is “very keen” to continue on Kluman & Balter’s growth journey, particularly with its owner Brenntag providing a platform from which to achieve this.
His reign so far has perhaps not been as expected having to navigate the firm through the pandemic, Brexit, and the current cost-of-living crisis. But it also marks a key milestone in its history, having celebrated 100 years in business at the tail end of 2023.
A century of success
So, what does Watson think is the key to success? And how has Kluman & Balter not only survived, but thrived, in an increasingly demanding and changing marketplace for 100 years?
The short answer, he says, is entrepreneurship, loyalty, innovation, and, most importantly, great people. Discussing Kluman & Balter employees, he says “their commitment, energy and dedication make us who we are and ensures that we remain the supplier of choice for our customers”.
Customers are also “very good at giving feedback”, Watson laughs. “You can very easily tell when you’re getting it right or, more frequently, if you’re getting it wrong.”
Offering more than 1,500 products to a customer base which spans the baking industry, from high street brands and craft bakers through to big bakery chains and food manufacturers, means delivering for customers is no easy feat. Being known as a “reliable and premium” supplier is something which the business has looked to cement in recent years and Watson proudly highlights Kluman & Balter’s average pick rate accuracy of 99%.
The centenary celebration also came with a revamped website, which helps Kluman & Balter’s customers “navigate its services and products far more easily”.
Notably, the firm handles its own logistics and delivers the length and breadth of the UK from its Waltham Abbey and Manchester sites – the latter of which was opened thanks to the previously mentioned investment in the multi-million-pound high-tech delivery hub and development centre.
“Having our own fleet helps the execution of service and ensures that we can own that aspect of service,” he explains, being careful not to criticise anyone who is running a different business model. Notably, around 50% of the delivery fleet has been upgraded in recent years and the remaining 50% is set to be in the next 18 months as it strives to be more sustainable.
Innovation for challenging times
On the topic of innovation, Watson says Kluman & Balter has a “passion for innovation and for helping our customers make the everyday extraordinary, which is exactly what they do”.
When you’re in a challenging situation, innovating your way out of it is crucial
Some of the highlights from the wholesaler’s history include adopting American-style cake and doughnut mixes for the UK, partnering with an Irish baker to launch edible ink printers (which it claims led to the popular personalisation of printed photos on cakes), and adapting recipes to use more sustainable and affordable products. This along with its exclusive range of Kaybee Cake Mixes and capability to create bespoke mixes for larger customers has helped set the business apart over the past century, Watson asserts.
This innovation really comes to the fore during challenging times, he believes. “This inflationary market is probably one of the toughest many of us will have faced,” he says. “What’s important is that we focus at Kluman & Balter on creating quality, value added ingredient solutions that basically provide our customers through these times with the right balance of affordability and choice.
“When you’re in a challenging situation, innovating your way out of it is crucial, and retaining that passion for delighting customers with fantastic tasting products that can be created from the ingredients we supply, will ensure their customers keep coming back for more.”
He can attest to the innovation being seen across the sector not only from his role as managing director but as a consumer, particularly when on the Friday morning school run with “mini-Watson”.
Innovation will also help bakeries keep up with the changing shopping environment as Watson highlights the blended or omnichannel approach that more companies are taking in their quest to make the everyday extraordinary.
Kluman & Balter, meanwhile, plans to be around for the next 100 years to watch the market develop and the innovation come to life.
“I feel incredibly proud to be leading this business into its next centenary,” he adds. “As we look forward probably to the next 100 years, our number one ambition is to continue on our growth journey. Whether that comprises growing share in the key markets in which we operate or evaluating other opportunities as they come along, we will remain committed to delivering growth.”