Admittedly, Allan Kliger’s entrepreneurial career didn’t start with a dream. Rather, the story of Kliger’s business, Victory’s Kitchen Ltd., Toronto, begins with a challenge.
After graduating from law school in 1982, the one thing Kliger knew was that he did not want to practice law. So he took time to travel and think about his next move. It was when he returned home that Kliger found himself inspired by the canned soups in his pantry – or rather, by the thought that he could do better.
“My sister once remarked, ‘As long as you decide – whatever you do – to be the best at it, you’ll be successful,’” he recalls.
“I knew nothing about food. But I started to think, ‘These [shelf stable soups] are not as good as what there could be and I began to take that as a challenge.”
It was in 1985 that Kliger started to attack that challenge. In quick order, he went from borrowing a food processor, pots and pans to make fresh soup in his own kitchen; to renting part of a larger commercial kitchen; to renting commercial processing space inside a 120,000-square-foot building.
Nearly 25 years later, Kliger now owns the same building.
“It’s amazing to think about how we arrived here but it was just one foot in front of the other, one customer at a time,” he notes. “We went from a 20-gallon, tilting skillet to a 600-gallon cook-chill steam kettle.”
Actually, Victory’s Kitchen is now one of North America’s most diverse and flexible private label processors of refrigerated and frozen “spoonable” foods including soups, sauces, salsa, chili, dips and marinades, pizza sauces, dressings and rice puddings. The company also has moved on to add frozen entrees and even specialty desserts.
Meanwhile, Kliger isn’t concerned about being the “biggest” at anything.
“While our company has grown by leaps and bounds, our core philosophy hasn’t changed one bit,” he says. “From the start, the only way to get business was to do what customers wanted us to do, with no shortcuts. That’s still our niche today – often the smaller, more value-added runs that other manufacturers either can’t or wont do.
“There are very few companies that are as focused or that have the production and packaging capabilities we do,” he continues. “Most do private label for [production line] efficiency and try to compromise the finished product by simply working with ingredients or packaging they already have.
“We’re the opposite. For us, it’s all about doing it right the first time, and then being consistent and uncompromising day after day. Being a specialist in this field, we’re also very quick to turn projects around. From our experience, it shouldn’t take more than three weeks and three tries to nail a product perfectly. We won’t compromise on delivering exactly the right product, and, when you know what you’re doing it doesn’t take long.”
Kliger’s uncompromising approach is evident in every facet of . . .
… sourcing. With its dedicated farms in Ontario, Victory’s Kitchen is perhaps the only private label processor to grow and source many of its own vegetables. To ensure consistent product quality and taste, the company cooks its beans from scratch, makes its own soup stocks and blends all spices and seasonings. All other incoming ingredients are quarantined until they pass rigorous internal QA/QC tests.
… processing. Victory’s versatile processing equipment accommodates products in all temperature states (shelf-stable, refrigerated or frozen) and in all volumes from 20 gallons to 600 gallons.
… quality assurance. Kliger says Victory’s Kitchen is ranked by NSF Cook & Thurber in the top 10 percent of processors worldwide for its quality assurance programs.
… packaging. To give customers exactly they want, Victory’s Kitchen invests in the equipment and packaging for everything from portion packs to totes (foodservice to retail) in all materials including plastic, glass and paperboard.
Not surprisingly, Kliger chooses to view today’s challenging market as opportunity.
“It’s been a very interesting year,” he notes. “Tremendous inflation in raw materials and packaging materials has applied pressure throughout the industry. Meanwhile, consumers are watching their spending. We’ve always been great at separating ourselves from the pack and coming up with new ideas to become an even more valuable business partner for our customers, and, in today’s challenging business environment, this has become even more important than ever.”
Of course it’s that attitude that took Kliger quickly through 25 years at Victory’s Kitchen. Although the business did not come as a dream ambition, it likely will leave a lasting mark on the Toronto native.
“It will be satisfying to look back from a rocking chair some day and think that we built these company one step at a time from just the spark of an idea, ” Kliger says. “That’s very appealing to me.”
Corporate Close-up: Victory's Kitchen
August 10, 2009