From Civet Cats to Coffee
Camilo and Zita Digay of Magallaya Mountain Specialty Coffee
Camilo and Zita Digay created Magallaya Mountain Specialty Coffee to take a chance on an opportunity with the Philippine wild cats or musang.
But the Digays’ entrepreneurial journey in end-to-end coffee production and processing business was also a learning experience for them.
This experience took the couple and their coffee products from the mountainous landlocked province of Kalinga in the Cordillera Administration Region to Baguio and beyond.
Coffee and cats
Camilo and Zita started out with P5,000.00 in capital for a sari-sari store business and decided to go into the buying and selling of the roasted coffee beans.
They made the decision after seeing the growing demand for civet coffee as they traveled to Baguio, even if it meant dealing with the musang in order to create the required coffee variety with its unique flavour and aroma.
Fortunately, the natural habitat of the civet cats was the forested highlands between Kalinga’s Tanudad town and Tabuk City.
The couple then decided to supply the mushrooming gourmet coffee shops throughout the country by processing and packaging their own brand, as well as distributing it.
Thus was when the Magallaya Mountain Specialty Coffee was born, named after the peak overlooking their home in the outskirts of Tabuk.
Trial and error
To process (and eventually expand their coffee line with a robusta variety), the Digays had to undergo a series of trial and error in creating their coffee starting around 2009. That is where the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) came in.
“We attended the DTI seminars and that was how we learned to process coffee,” Camilo said. He added that they attended more than 30 trainings for this.
“The department was a huge help to us. I burned so much coffee in the early days when I was still learning (the roasting process),” Camilo revealed with a chuckle.
The Digays were doubly lucky as not only were they the first beneficiary of the DTI’s World Bank-funded Rural Microenterprise Program, the DTI also helped them obtain a loan for the packaging of the Magallaya products to be showcased in a trade fair.
By 2009, the Magallaya brand got introduced at the One-Town One-Product (OTOP) Luzon Island Fair in SM Mega Mall where it generated P108,000.00 in gross sales.
In 2010, the Magallaya brand raked in P350,000.00 in a fair at the Festival Mall in Alabang and in 2012, they booked an order of P700,000.00 in another event in Greenbelt in Makati.
Present and future
The Magallaya Mountain Specialty Coffee has already accomplished a lot to serve as a success model for the rural coffee industry in Kalinga. Its achievements also serve as an inspiration to the local industry suffering a decline because of weak export demand, low farmgate prices, long gestation period from planting to harvesting, and competition with other crops.
From starting small, the couple has gone big as they have constructed a building and purchased equipment for processing and packaging, even as they acquired additional lands to expand their coffee plantation.
More importantly, the business offers hope for the resurgence of Kalinga’s coffee industry.
Sweet Tooth for Business
Samuel and Cheryl Arquero of Mid-East Sweets
Samuel and Cheryl Arquero found a business opportunity in the Middle East, which they then brought to the Philippines. You could say it was a date of an opportunity.
After working for several years in Bahrain in the academe and shipbuilding industry, Samuel and his then-pregnant wife Cheryl debated about setting up a business back home.
“Naisip namin na kailangan magkaroon din kami ng business para just in case may mangyari sa country na pinagtatrabahuhan namin, meron kaming babalikan,” recalled Samuel.
The couple latched onto the idea of a business involving dates, the sweet oval-shaped fruits well-known in the Middle East.
It was then their business for Mid-East Sweets was born.
Doing research for business
The Arqueros did their research in setting up their business. For example, they found out that not everyone in the Philippines could afford dates that was available in the country.
“Nag-research pa ako further (hanggang) nalaman ko na meron na rin dito sa Pilipinas pero mahal. Ang presyuhan dito (ay) nasa thousands per kilo. Kaya naman sabi ko maghanap-hanap tayo ng variety na affordable,” Samuel said.
Fortunately, they found affordable varieties and with the same health benefits. In 2013, after research and experimentation, they came up with their first product: dates with almond coated with dark chocolate.
While Samuel was still in Bahrain, Cheryl established their first Mid-East Sweets store in Nueva Vizcaya. They also registered their business with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Their business soon required a lot of money for equipment, pest control, raw materials, packaging and compliance with regulatory and export requirements. They also needed to have their products halal-certified.
DTI helped them and gave them guidance in marketing and promotion, as well as sourcing financial assistance. Also a big help was the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which assisted them in sourcing production equipment.
“Na-overwhelm kami sa assistance na binibigay ng dalawang government agencies na ito. Ang DOST ang nagbigay ng aming mga machinery. Ang DTI sa promotions, kung saan-saan kami nakakapunta dahil sa mga exhibit,” Samuel said.
Growing bigger from small beginnings
With the support of DTI and DOST, they moved from one product line to six: dates with almond coated with dark chocolate, dates with honey and pistachio, dates with sesame and honey, dates bar with mixed nuts, dates bar with cashew and coconut, and dates tarts.
They also started making buko, pineapple, mango, and ube pies using dates as natural sweetener. Their six-square-meter shop doubled in size, and they started making their own mango purees and rice crisps.
With the help of DTI, they rebranded their products, passed their nutrition verification process, and got Mid-East Sweets halal-certified. Thanks to these efforts, their products are now ready for export to the world market and they target Malaysia as their next market.
As they expand their market reach in Visayas and planning their debut in Robinsons Malls, the couple are also helping ube farmers by saving a peso from every unit sale to help them increase and sustain yam production.
The Arqueros gave this advice to those who want to pursue their dreams: “Huwag kayong hihinto. Diretso lang. Kasi minsan maraming challenges. ‘Tsaka ‘wag makikinig sa mga paninira. ‘Wag paapekto sa mga negative sa paligid.”
Passion, Patience and Perseverance
Edelyn Sitchon Cañero of Edelyn’s Homemade Nuts
As the owner of Edelyn’s Homemade Nuts, Edelyn Sitchong Cañero made the transition from retailer to manufacturer in 2005 because of three Ps: ‘passion, patience and perseverance.’
By adhering to these three Ps, Cañero managed to become a successful businesswoman despite the difficulties one would encounter in any business.
The hardships of doing business
In 2002, Cañero was wondering how her family would survive on her commissions as a part-time real estate agent, given that her husband was out of work and they had two children. It did not help that the rains of the monsoon season had begun to besiege their flood-prone area in Pampanga.
“I had to step up for my family to survive,” she said. With her husband’s support, she chose peanuts as a business, both as a wholesaler and retailer of nut delicacies.
When going from one company to another to sell peanuts was not enough, she decided to get into manufacturing—complete with her own brand: Edelyn’s Homemade Nuts.
The challenges of running a company
She then had problems sourcing capital. She had to deal with lending cooperatives and thrift banks despite having no collateral to offer and taking on interest rates as high as 24 percent.
Other problems she faced included having to comply with requirements from distributors, exporters and mall stall operators that a small business like hers could not fulfill. Supermarkets and specialty stores also turned down her products for similar reasons.
“We got so tired of getting rejected,” Cañero said.
She faced these problems head on as she resorted to taste tests or product sampling, severe price cuts, and selling on consignment to generate demand. Soon, orders started rolling in.
The rewards of hard work
When the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stepped into the picture, she began getting a steady stream of repeat orders from big institutional buyers.
She also started joining DTI-sponsored local, regional, and national exhibitions and trade fairs. Soon, she was landing spots on various television shows and her products managed to make it to markets all over the world.
Cañero said the key to her success is having a business you truly like so as to marshal the “passion, patience and perseverance” required.
Likewise, she said: “You’ll need to know how to discern, to treat the competition—not as adversaries—but as challenges, and to have financial discipline. Don’t spend too much. Borrow only when needed.”
The key to success
“Doing business isn’t easy in the beginning. But once you get used to doing it, you’ll realize that you’re not really working. It becomes part of your daily life,” she added.
Not bad for a business that went from peanuts to sales amounting to millions and being sold in over 100 outlets nationwide.
Starting, Surviving, Succeeding
Sherill Ramos Quintana of ORYSPA
Sherill Ramos Quintana is the founder of ORYSPA, a pioneering brand in the health and wellness sector. But originally, entrepreneurship had no appeal for her.
It was only while attending school bazaars with her son that she saw how entrepreneurship was a good fit for mothers like her.
The Start of it All
She first went into aromatherapy, selling scented candles, essential oils, and virgin coconut oil. But she was no different from other micro-entrepreneurs, her products one of many on the market.
That’s why when she discovered rice ban (or darak) during a Department of Trade and industry (DTI) product development session in 2008, she realized she found a unique business opportunity.
A rice byproduct, darak is normally used as live feeds. However, the oil extract from rice bran is rich in vitamins E and A for skin renewal, and contains oryzanol, an anti-oxidant that suppresses skin ageing.
From darak was born ORYSPA, a portmanteau of the rice’s scientific name, Oryza sativa, and spa. Sherill started this micro enterprise operating from a kitchen with just Php 5,000 in capital.
Surviving the Market
Before launching her product, Sherill applied for patents both here and abroad with the help of DTI. The region 4 trade office also helped bring her products to Barakalan, a DTI-sponsored trade show for the Southern Tagalog region held in SM Megamall.
Her first store in 2010 was an instant success, giving a full return of investment in less than a year. In 2011, she started franchising.
Now, ORYSPA Solutions is making P35 million in annual income with investors keen on buying into the company. It also has 30 branches nationwide and an export distribution network spanning the US, Singapore, the Middle East, Russia, Poland and other European countries.
Spreading Her Success
While ORYSPA has won several awards, including the 2016 ASEAN Business Awards for Excellence in Healthcare, Sherill was named ASEAN Woman Entrepreneur in 2016 and 2016’s Most Inspiring Filipina awardee for Go Negosyo.
Believing her product’s unique selling proposition, Sherill created a market based on her own needs: a busy mother of four wishing to be pampered.
“Challenge yourself to imagine the opposite of the norm. In business, it pays to be deviant,” she said.
She also refused to detach the Filipino brand from her original vision: “It is like I am building a house with one post missing because my motivation lies in being known as a Filipino brand.”
Sherill further believes that Filipinos need to build homegrown brands where production and employment creates wealth locally in order to set up a strong base of entrepreneurs.
“Becoming a better entrepreneur is striving to be a better person,” she said.
Bagging the Business by Hand
Jocelyn Antonio of Prime Legacy
Jocelyn Antonio is an example of a business owner, who stuck to her guns in staying at—and owning—her market niche.
That is why her business, Prime Legacy, is now exporting uniquely handmade embroidered abaca bags to Japan and the United States despite having only a one-product-line strategy.
Runs in the family
Jocelyn is the second generation that runs Prime Legacy based in Daraga, Albay. It started when her parents began a cut-and-sew business in 1959 in a shop near the train station.
She described their shop as being “so small where they’d also sell the abaca bags to passengers and passersby.”
Her mother did the designs while her father did the marketing. Jocelyn said: “They didn’t have a display room. They’d finish one bag and then sell it.”
However, through word of mouth, their business grew such that by 1965, it was drawing walk-in orders.
In 2001, her parents retired in their eighties and they decided to turn the business into a family corporation with Jocelyn as its head.
Facing the challenges
Some of the immediate challenges that Jocelyn faced was the threat of losing her highly-skilled workers with most of them getting old and their children losing interest in the artisanal craft and preferring to work in cities.
Likewise, on one hand, other local industries were generating higher returns than abaca. The process of stringing abaca fibers was so inefficient and the supply of raw materials was hard to come by during rainy days.
“We’re new and the money was just enough to pay employees,” Jocelyn said, reminiscing on the time when family business was struggling and she thought of closing shop. “We didn’t have any orders for exports.”
DTI to the rescue
Fortunately, they received an invitation from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to join a series of regional and national trade fairs to promote Albay’s handicrafts.
“After a week, the orders started coming in,” Jocelyn said as she recalled her company’s participation in Manila FAME, the Philippines’ premier and biggest international design and lifestyle show and Asia-Pacific’s second longest-running trade event.
Through the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), an attached agency of the DTI, the government helped her develop process flow, system controls and product costing through export coaching and trainings.
Such assistance also led Prime Legacy to capture the attention of the Japanese market. Now, the items even have embroidered renditions of an iconic Japanese cat and a famous American mouse, their designs allowed through a license given to Prime Legacy.
Their secret to success
Prime Legacy managed to make it in their niche market because they decided to focus on the medium segment of the export market, where both volumes and margins come at an even keel.
“We can’t compete with high-volume exporters where orders are big but margin is low.” They don’t want to compete in the high-end market where margins are big but the orders are limited, she added.
The premium of Prime Legacy’s bags lies in the uniqueness and quality as its selling points, such that Jocelyn doubts that the designs are not liable to be copied. It takes rare skills to make the embroidery, according to her.
“I think we’re the only one who does the intricate designs,” she said, noting that her workers work by hand, a technical and tedious process.
“Anybody can make a knot, but not all can make a uniform knot,” she said proudly.