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KT International (KTI) is one of the fastest growing independent tobacco producers in Europe. Today, the Bulgarian-based company sells its products to over fifty countries on four continents.

Especially for Manufacturing Journal Magazine an extensive interview was given by Mr. Todor Dzhankov, Head of International Development and Global Travel Retail at KT International.

Please tell us what the beginnings of the KT international were and what were the most important moments in the history of its development? What achievements are you most proud of?

We are very proud of our tobacco heritage that can be traced back to 1872 when the first tobacco manufacturing facility was established in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Since then, Plovdiv has been a centre of the tobacco industry in Bulgaria and on the Balkans and KT International is the successor of the tobacco expertise and craftsmanship developed through the years. Of course, the most significant year for KT International would be 2008 when it all began with the establishment of the company after the break-up of the Bulgarian State Monopoly. It wasn’t an easy start because along with the expertise and the know-how we had also inherited very old and outdated facilities. This leads us to 2014 when we opened the most modern factory in the region using the latest production technologies and partnering with leading machine manufacturers. From the very beginning we have been focusing on our portfolio development and global footprint expansion by implementing innovations in terms of technology, formats and design. Starting from the domestic markets in Europe in the 2010’s, we now operate in over 50 countries on 4 continents. We also have a strong presence in the global travel retail channel and our dedicated channel specific product portfolios gain recognition with formats and designs relevant to individual consumer needs. Rooted in tradition, we continue to invest in the future and in 2019 we have started another development project - our own in-house filter production that we plan to expand with further capacities in the years to come.

Today you are the fastest developing independent tobacco group with operations in over 50 countries and selling products across 4 continents. What distinguishes KT international from the competition?

As a growing, independently-owned tobacco group with world-class production and research facilities, leading brands and global footprint, we bring together over 145 years of tobacco expertise and passion and state-of-the-art technology to create the highest quality products. We are motivated by the challenges of our industry and we retain dynamic flexibility which allows us to compete with a progressive and focused approach. We abide by a set of principles that guide our business and set the standards by which we retain respect in this highly regulated category. We also comply with all international quality standards.

KT International’s consumers and customers deserve the highest quality tobacco experiences. To deliver these we have two sides to our business: consumer brands, and leaf processing, preparation and production.

We also provide leaf processing, preparation and production facilities for independent companies and customers with private label brands. Products include blended strips, a cased and flavoured leaf tobacco blend ready to be cut, cut rag, a cut tobacco blend prepared for the production of cigarettes, and cut rolled expanded stems (CRES).

Your primary production plant, the most modern in Europe, was purpose built by the industry’s leading machine manufacturers. This facility services your own demand as well as producing processed tobacco for selected international clients. In 2019 an automated warehouse of 4200 square meters was custom built to cater for increased demand across international markets. What were the most important investments related to the development of the company in the last few years? are you planning new investments?

Our multi-million investment in a state-of-the-art factory, open since 2014, gives KT International a daily capacity of up to 25 tons. The customised air-conditioning and dedusting systems create a strict temperature and moisture-controlled environment. The plant has a fully equipped high-tech laboratory for physical control of the daily production.

KT International’s in-house laboratory handles physical-chemical analysis covering all international norms and requirements. Our testing procedures are fully aligned with global working methods and best practice. We also have an additional laboratory inside the Primary production department for physical control of the daily processing of tobacco.

We are compliant with the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and Track&Trace requirements which aim to discourage the illicit trade in tobacco products. European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) compliant. We also lead the way with ingredients disclosure and with online and independently audited production reporting to domestic tax and excise authorities.

We constantly work on expanding our capacity and increasing the number of formats we offer. In 2021 we have further installed a queen size (compact) machine and an additional 100’s length machine to cater for the growing global demand for innovation in new segments.

Industry is bolder and bolder in focusing on research and development and the development of new technologies. Does the KT international also fit in the Industry 4.0 trend and invest in the latest technologies and solutions?

Our production is fully automated and we work with the world’s leading suppliers of machines and technology. The smart technologies we implemented are related not only to the latest legislative requirements, like in the case of the Track&Trace system, but also with product development and innovations.

Please tell me what is the most important in your business? What is the strategic potential of your company and the key to its success?

Quality. Flexibility. Innovation. Quality is the core of everything we do - from pack design through to material suppliers, production and in market implementation. A rigid procurement process and a global network of appointed suppliers ensure all our materials meet global benchmarks for quality, consistency and ethical supply. Europe’s most modern factory, state-of-the-art machinery and internal laboratories for quality assessment ensure that our products meet and exceed global benchmarks. Being an independent manufacturer gives us the freedom and agility to adapt and quickly respond to specific client needs and expectations. Our state-of-the-art production facilities and progressive methods of operations have been purposely designed to provide tailor-made solutions and greater flexibility at all levels. Innovation is a central pillar for KT International, influencing consumer behaviour and providing choice. We research relevant trends to build insights that will, ultimately, shape product propositions. Helping realise these concepts, our Research & Development team works with our blenders and technologists, developing innovations that will enhance the experience of our customers.

Achieving business success is impossible without qualified staff. Can you tell us about the team of specialists who build the brand and success of the KT international on a daily basis through their work?

We are proud of the high standard of our employees; their expertise and team spirit is key to our success. We understand the importance of ensuring our personnel feel valued and respected. With 740 employees and 10 different nationalities we balance local expertise with a global approach. Our talented and culturally diverse team members create an environment that is both competitive and creatively inspiring. With international experts across both commercial and production disciplines we pride ourselves on building and developing talent to operate across multi disciplines and multiple geographies. With our commitment to world class products, our team of qualified chemists and chemical engineers work with our brand innovation and product quality teams to ensure that all products meet consumer expectations – Globally.

Our heritage of blending expertise combines both science and artistry and our technological, and professional master blenders mean that we are always ready to develop new blends exclusively to meet customer’s requirements. The team combines the expertise of experienced blenders and the passion of young professionals. We are in a continuous process of skills and knowledge improvement by participating in a variety of development sessions, seminars and conferences worldwide

The quality of the products and services offered is your priority, therefore you cooperate only with proven partners. Would you like to highlight any of the companies - your most partners?

We work with more than 300 suppliers and business partners worldwide. Product excellence begins with the right ingredients. Our tobacco portfolio is built of different grades and varieties in all price categories. Our buying team sources the highest quality leaves and rare tobaccos from accredited global growing regions. We purchase tobacco from 5 continents and more than 60 partner suppliers. Focused on constant innovation and expansion, we value our long-term partnership with the world’s leading tobacco equipment suppliers like Hauni, Focke, GD, Gima, ITM, Garbuio, etc.

The received certificates are the confirmation of the high-quality functioning of the company and the offered products. What certificates, awards and titles can you be proud of?

The greatest recognition for us is the feedback and brand loyalty of our consumers. Our brands and products have been awarded and praised at some of the world’s leading tobacco and travel retail exhibitions in Singapore, Cannes, Dortmund, Dubai. We have also won International Travel Retail awards and recognition for product and packaging design and innovation.

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