Get to know our Member Businesses and the people behind them in our series. This month we speak to packaging innovators KCC.
10 Questions with…KCC
Name: Kevin Clarke
Clean Growth UK Hub: South West hub – Greentech South
What inspired you to start your business?
“In 2007 I was talking with Terry Robins. By then he’d left Sainsburys as their Packaging Technical Manager after a long career with the retailer. We talked about how plastic use was growing so much and that we ought to find a better way to pack ready meals and agreed to work together on the problems surrounding CPet trays.
Terry worked with KCC for a decade and finally took a much deserved retirement at the end of 2017. The work we started together continues today.”
What do you think makes KCC special?
“If we’re special, it’s because we persevered with a particularly difficult technical challenge with regards to being able to produce a sustainable, ovenable, compostable ready meal tray. We spent a long time of researching materials and understanding manufacturing processes… So I suppose if I were being objective I would say that our tenacity to persevere and find a solution and be known for that in a difficult area is possibly what has made us different from many others.”
What are the main challenges you are currently facing in your business today?
“Finance is always an ever present problem because you’ve never got enough of the green folding stuff to do what you’d like to do. It’s an easy answer and so many businesses do have that as a common problem but you can’t ignore it.
Some of the challenges are in getting things done in reaching the right people and being able to just come back to what you do and being able to engage them in dialogue so you have a meaningful conversation.”
How did you find out about Greentech South?
“Through Richard (Hall). In around 2011-2012 when I was invited to give a talk at an investors day in Portsmouth.
One of the people who spoke at that event was the innovation director (at that time) at the University of Portsmouth so I made it my business to meet him in the coffee break after he’d spoken. He very quickly said you need to come and see me because we need to be talking about grants – you need a grant to do what you’re doing.
I had never been involved in government grants and had always struggled to get it going. To cut a long story short, I had a meeting at purple door and eventually I got involved with Richard and Greentech South.”
What is your highlight at KCC to date?
“I think our highlight in the last 6 months has been the achievement of getting a certificate from Campden BRI, a research laboratory well-known around the world. Campden BRI have tested our Riji product, and we’ve achieved a certificate which says we meet the food migration laws for EU and UK that restrict the migration of material into food when it’s in the oven up to a temperature of 240C.
That’s massive for us because you need to get a pass to make it safe so that the supermarkets know that they can use it and customers know they can use it at home”
Knowing all the things you know now, would you have gone about starting your business differently?
“Yes I am sure we would have but hindsight is a wonderful thing and until you stick your foot down on the ground and you find all the puddles it is difficult to know how to go about it.
Once you learn how to do something, a bit like learning how to drive, then you don’t clip the kerb so much and you don’t do things the wrong way. But unfortunately when you’re out there and nobody’s there to guide you, you just have to go and get stuck in.
I’d probably try to find a way to involve some really good people in the business a lot sooner. We were a very small crew and we’re now trying to make the crew much bigger to go to the next level, and that’s a challenge because of finances and things like that. We’ve had to learn how to go from a standing start to a sprinting team. Some of the really good people don’t want to come until you’re a successful business, and to become a successful business in this area you’ve got to have the good people to make it happen. So I suppose I would probably try to get hold of some good talent earlier in the game”
What inspires you?
“People that inspire me are people like Elon Musk. He is an incredible person who is controversial but he’s changed the motor industry across the world by leading the way with his Tesla product. It doesn’t end there… Elon Musk is the one that springs to mind at the moment, but other people who have achieved some amazing things against some big odds are very inspiring.
The power of nature. We’ve all had in these last 12 months an absolute shocking realisation that we don’t own the planet, we are a part of it and we have to do something to change things. And if we get things badly wrong in nature, such as has come with the pandemic, humans can be brushed aside brutally and we have to change behaviours. So yes, I have found that inspiring because I am genuinely fascinated by the speed of change and the societal effects and I don’t know where it is going to land… I’m not sure if it is inspiring or worrying, but it certainly draws you up and makes you think.”
What is next for KCC?
“Rapid growth. Finding a way to take our first significant production line and turn it into a much bigger factory.
I’ve been planning out the outlandish requirements we have for raising capital to expand quickly and the reason we need to do that? Organic growth.
Organic growth is the process of growing and recycling your profit and growing further the next year, which is fine but it’s slow, and we need to grow faster. If we don’t, other big, deep pocketed organisations will step in. It’s either you come into the game and do it big and quickly or you won’t be there. And I would like to make sure that this really comes about and we can change this one element of the packaging industry that’s been in use worldwide for the past 50 years.
It’s time it’s got rid of because it’s just not a good material. It’s a very high energy product to make, it’s very difficult to recycle, and most of the time it’s going to landfill or incineration. So we need to change that, I want to see that happen.”