A family affair
Having worked for more than 20 years in various managerial roles for Kainuu Dairy, it was in 1995 that Raino Kukkonen decided to resign his position and refocus his efforts on establishing a successful business venture of his own. Initially, this involved the exporting of cream to Russia, however, while business was good, Raino had his sights set a little higher. It was this motivation that led to the creation of Kaslink in 2001.
The founding of the company began with the co-packing of high-quality sauce bases for a customer that sold the products on to kitchens across Europe. In the beginning, the company only utilised a small percentage of its production capacity, however this soon changed as it expanded its range into dessert sauces and products such as creams. Having positioned itself as a contract-manufacturer for retail chains and brand owning partners, it was in 2006 that Raino decided to concentrate all of its operations to Kuovola, the home of its factory. From here it developed its range further still in order to service a growing list of clients in need of milk products, ultimately becoming Finland’s largest private dairy.
By 2011, demand for Kaslink’s products was such that the company needed to invest heavily in its production lines, storage facilities and packaging methods. Three years later, in 2014, Kaslink would not only be named as ‘Company of the Year’ in Finland, it would also commence with the launch of its first own brands. Today, these brands include its Maire premium milk, its Nordic Cuisine premium cooking products, the Tahto range of healthy options, Vesi Water and its Kaslink Aito range of non-dairy items.
While Raino remains active in the Board, Kaslink has since experienced a generational change with the second generation of the Kukkonen family now taking charge of its daily operations. Joined by his brothers Matti and Petteri, Tuomas Kukkonen has held the position of Chief Executive Officer since 2015. “In the ten-year period from 2005 to 2015 we successfully grew from a five-million-euro company into one turning over approximately 55 million euros a year,” Tuomas explains. “In that time, we have expanded to the point where today we employ some 160 people across the business and where we now have a range of premium Scandinavian food products, made in Finland, that we export to some 15 different European countries.”
Building new business
One thing that the Kukkonen family have ensured is that, even in the face of such considerable growth, Kaslink remains a highly agile company and one that is able to make quick, informed decisions. This helps it to stand out from its larger competitors whose sheer size inhibits their speed of change.
Kaslink also prides itself on being a ‘house of active research and development’. Its own in-house department works diligently to strengthen the company’s food industry experience, concentrating on developing its clients’ products better and fulfilling their needs. This level of dedication contributed massively to the development of its Kaslink Aito non-dairy range of oat-based milk alternatives that can be enjoyed in the same way as regular dairy products.
“The market for non-dairy products is currently booming across the whole of Europe, but particularly in the Nordic countries,” Tuomas states. “In response to this we have worked hard to develop a unique non-dairy product range, one which replicates the other popular food products that we have become known for supplying. As a result of these efforts our Kaslink Aito range has become our biggest growth generator in 2017, and we expect this to continue into 2018.”
It is therefore understandable that Tuomas is keen to retain a strong focus on its non-dairy products, while at the same time developing Kaslink’s other brands and offerings. Among the many ways he intends to achieve this, considerable capital will be invested back into the company’s facilities, manufacturing capabilities and the research side of the business. “To put things into perspective,” Tuomas adds, “for the past two years we have seen growth of some 40 per cent in the non-dairy category, so it is very much a consumer driven category. While there is an increase in supply coming into the market, demand from those consumers looking for a different, healthy selection continues to outstrip this. As such, it is all the more important that we continue with the development of new and improved non-dairy alternatives that consumers want.”
Whilst Kaslink brand products can today be found in more countries than ever before, increased internationalisation is another key area of focus for the company going forward. “By replicating the success we have experienced to date, we are now in the process of building further sales channels throughout Europe and identifying the right kinds of partners we want to work with in the future,” Tuomas concludes. “At the same time, we are also looking to make continued progress with a number of connections that we have been building with entities in China and others in the Asian market. Talks to date have been very positive and we believe that over the next 12 months we will find ourselves in a strong position to be building new business in and around the aforementioned regions.”