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.”