Neuhaus Neotec GM Victoria Behrmann on guiding the company’s growth

Whether or not to join the family business is a dilemma many people can relate to. Dr Victoria  Behrmann experienced this herself while studying law at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany – join the family-run Kahl Holdings or explore her interests in the European Union. “Both careers were very tempting to me. I was amazed by the concept of the EU and needed to see it,” Behrmann says. “I shortly did between studying for my master’s degree and PhD, but it made me realise the passion I had for my family business.” Kahl Holdings consists of several German manufacturers, including coffee-focused Neuhaus Neotec. Behrmann joined Kahl Holdings full time in 2012 as Legal Counsel, where one of her first responsibilities was modernising the group’s internal framework. “I built up our legal department, which was just me at the time, and renewed a lot of the company’s structures around risk management, so one project would not risk the whole company,” Behrmann says. “We had experienced growth and it became impractical for each leader to be directly involved in every project from beginning to end. It was important to reorganise and implement standardised structures and documents to ensure oversight.” Within three years, Behrmann was promoted to General Manager of Neuhaus Neotec and sister company Amandus Kahl, becoming GM of Kahl Holdings in 2018. She tells Global Coffee Report that with a background in comparative law and commercial methods, she strives to maintain close contact with the company’s clients. “As I work with customers and interact with the market, I can see trends in the market, then sit with our product development team to ask ourselves: ‘What are the wants and needs of our customers? And how can we respond to these?’” Behrmann says. “A family business always has a special touch of empathy – looking at the individual people and becoming a family in and of itself. A lot of our customers are also family-owned, so we understand each other.” Especially in coffee, Behrmann experiences an infectious passion and love for the product, which has spread throughout the company. “In Germany, coffee is a beloved beverage and prominent in daily life, and it’s really the same all over the world,” Behrmann says. “Coffee is the Kahl Group’s most important single product. Neuhaus Neotec is clearly devoted to products and production plants for the coffee industry whereas our other companies focus on technical methods that apply to multiple markets and products.” Behrmann still remembers when coffee was incorporated into the family business as a child. “I was nine years old and my family was having dinner with Mr Neuhaus. There was no one in his family to continue with the company when he retired, and he asked my family to take it over. We combined the roasting equipment of Neotec with the green bean handling of Neuhaus to create the company we know today,” she says. Behrmann’s involvement in the coffee community extends past her role with Neuhaus Neotec to the German Coffee Association, of which she was elected to the board last year. “We try to tackle topics that are on the nerve of the times, from emissions and waste to how to improve testing and help the coffee industry work at its best,” she says. Behrmann first realised the scope of the coffee industry – and Neuhaus Neotec’s capabilities – in 2004 when visiting the under-construction Hamburg green bean silo of Neumann Kaffee Group, one of the largest of its kind in the world. “My sister and I hiked up the stairs of that silo while it was in the development phase. Looking down from the 66-metre height of the terminal and realising the amount of coffee that would be processed or handled through it was amazing to me. I remember asking my father, ‘did we really do this?’” Behrmann says. “I was greatly impressed that [Neuhaus Neotec] a mid-sized company with 150 employees [at the time] was so powerful that it could design, plan, and erect such a huge project successfully.” In the 15 years since, Kahl Holdings has grown to more than 1000 employees, and Behrmann says the company continues to grow. A highlight of her time in leadership was successfully carrying out its generational turnover. “We have a strong footing, clear direction and are young, flexible, and full of new ideas,” Behrmann says. “One initiative was founding a construction company to complete the building of our various plants. Every day, that team gains more experience in the assembly of our products – green coffee handling and roasting. This has increased reliability while reducing prices and lead times.” In terms of coffee, Behrmann says catering to new markets and trends has been key to Neuhaus Neotec’s continuing prosperity. “Neuhaus Neotec is a supplier of turnkey solutions for the whole line of coffee handling and production. We want to be at our customer’s side from start to finish,” she says. “While I’ve been responsible for Neuhaus Neotec, we’ve successfully developed a new modern grinder – the NeoGrind – and also the NeoRoast, a specialty-oriented hot air roaster which meets the needs of smaller batch sizes and roasteries.” NeoRoast applies the rotational flexible batch (RFB) technology Neuhaus Neotec uses in its larger scale models. RFB roasting chambers contain no moving mechanical parts and possesses a low heat storage, allowing the roaster to quickly switch between recipes. “Our customers’ desires for profile roasting and the development of new tastes have become stronger,” Behrmann says. “[RFB] is one of the most flexible systems for roasting coffee on the market if you want to change batch size, input material – from one blend to another – or profiles. You can do this in a time not possible if you have a lot of steel involved. “The system works only by the flow of air and the beans have much less contact with the machine. And by not using mechanical agitators, the need for maintenance and spare parts is reduced.” Behrmann says the emergence of small or craft roasteries is occurring across the global marketplace and creating another demographic to benefit from Neuhaus Neotec’s product range. “There’s a rising demand in Europe and the United States for consumers who want locally roasted beans. They’re also more aware of and care about the implications of the products they consume,” she says. “They want to know its social and environmental credentials through seals like Organic or Fairtrade and want to see where and how the coffee is roasted. This is possible for smaller roasteries which can set up in cities and offer the experience of drinking coffee while seeing how it’s roasted. We believe we can be a great partner to this market, like we’ve been to industrial production.” Behrmann adds that smaller-scale equipment is not necessarily new to the company, which is known for its compatibility with large-volume production. “In the 1970s, when there weren’t so many large roasters in the world, we had machines similar to NeoRoast, which we remodelled and made fit for today’s market,” she says. In the near future, Neuhaus Neotec plans to continue identifying and catering to new markets, with the development of new equipment to suit their needs. “We see trends towards the whole bean market, single serve packages, and growing markets in Asia,” Behrmann says. “Our flexible systems in small and large sizes can really answer to that.” For more information, visit Follow Global Coffee Report on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter for up-to-date news and analysis of the global coffee industry.

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