With the younger generation taking the helm at Kluman & Balter, Danny Kluman tells Andrew Williams how he sees the business going forward You recently took the helm at Kluman & Balter. How did you get to where you are now?
I’ve been in the business for 10 years, starting off in telesales. Following that, I took control of the buying, then oversaw the sales reps. I worked in every department before becoming a director. Now, I’ve taken up the managing director’s role so we’re moving forwards. My father [Geoff Kluman, the previous MD for more than 30 years] will be involved in a consultancy role – probably for a few hours a month and if he can do even fewer, I think he’ll be happy. So there will be continuity.
Are there any other comings and goings?
M y brother Jamie joined the business three years ago, from a marketing firm, and he’s brought with him a different angle to developing the company. He now heads up field sales. Simon Douglas, who has been with Kaybee (Kluman & Balter) since leaving school in 1988, has taken charge of in-house sales. And Bryan Partridge who is a fully qualified baker now heads up development and retail sales.
So how are you moving forward?
We are totally customer-focused. We’ve just relaunched our website, so that customers can see our range of products and services available online. It gives us a presence and it’s a useful resource for existing customers, potential new customers, retailers and the plant baker.
In terms of customer service, we are EFSIS-accredited to the highest level. We are different from other wholesalers because we are impor-ters and distributors, with appointed agents throughout the world, constantly sourcing new manufacturers and the finest ingredients available. We also have a dedicated quality control and technical department, which audits to the highest standards and produces bespoke recipes in our fully equipped on-site bakery.
Seventy-five per cent of our field sales reps are qualified bakers and not order-takers. They understand the demands and constraints placed upon the craft baker in the industry today. When you’re looking to lock people in to your business, you have to develop partnerships. This year, to date, we have added four new 22-tonne capacity vehicles to cope with the upturn in business.
What’s the background to Kluman & Balter and how has the business evolved in recent times?
We’re a fourth-generation family-run business, which started in Hackney, east London, in 1923. We moved to Holloway and then on to an 8,000sq ft unit in Enfield in 1986. The company was sold soon after and then bought back in 1988. We now have premises of 20,000sq ft in Waltham Cross, where we moved three years ago. Our frozen distribution satellite depot in Boroughbridge has a capacity of over 92,000 pallets, and we have an ambient satellite distribution depot in Stockport, with a capacity of over 5,000 pallets.
Our business is split into three main groups: retail, which is the main supermarkets; high street, which covers master craft bakers and chain retail shops; and foodservice and plant bakery. Our turnover has grown in all three sections year-on-year.
What are bakers pestering you for right now?
In a couple of words: innovation and healthy-eating. Everybody wants new ideas. We are putting a lot of emphasis on seeded bread at the moment, and we’re bringing a range in from Germany. Our breads include anything from multigrain dark rye and light rye, Donker (a Dutch-style, dark-coloured loaf with a malty taste) to ciabatta bread and tomato bread.
Long-term, we’re looking to develop more healthy-eating products in our range. Different blends of dried fruit are big at the moment, and cranberries are the flavour of the month, because blueberry prices have tripled this year. We also stock over 1,000 ingredients such as sugars, fats, dried fruits and chocolates, as well as finished products, such as speciality breads and cakes.
We’re also launching a new phase of Photo Cake, which we’ve been working on for the last three years. It’s a customer-interactive Photo Cake kiosk that enables you to design and personalise your own cake. It adds value to the cake and provides a bit of theatre in the bakery. Our present system is the only proven cake station in the country generating sales in excess of £5m per annum. We believe this new generation will double this figure.
Have you got anything else interesting in the pipeline?
We’re working on a bespoke range of muffins in 10 innovative flavours, as well as a new form of gateaux to the UK, which we believe will equal the sales of Photo Cake machines. It’s an idea we picked up in America, which has not yet materialised in the UK market.
How early in your life did you decide you wanted to carry on the family business?
Not until my final year of university, doing business studies, did I realise there was an opportunity for me to take this company further and put into practice what I’d learnt. This was a big opportunity to work with an established company and take it to another level.
The baking industry is crying out for new blood and you’re part of the younger generation coming through. What can you offer the industry and what do you think needs
The new management team is enthusiastic and passionate about the baking industry. Although young, it has in excess of 60 years’ bakery experience. We work on our business 24/7. Our service levels are run to the highest standard in the industry. At a recent national retailers conference, we were one of only five companies, among many in our industry, given a green card for complying with all requirements, and our management drives this attitude. All departments within K&B want and expect 100% success. We’re not perfect but we’re improving daily.
How do you unwind away from work?
I am never far from work, as my colleagues and customers know. But when I get the chance, I like football, swimming, going to the gym, eating out and socialising. I’ve been an Arsenal supporter for 26 years and saw them play in the Champions League this season. I was in Paris for the final; it was a great atmosphere... until the final 20 minutes. How disappointed was I to lose? Gutted isn’t the word!