Processor Creates Sure Market for Ubi Producers
For over nine years in the food processing business, Crispin Muyrong Jr and his wife Ma. Luz, owners of Sunlight Foods Corporation in Marikina City, have considered ubi as their bread and butter This rootcrop, which is valued for its purple-colored tuber, is a much sought-after ingredient in cakes, pastries, halo-halo, ice cream and other delicacies which make up a big chunk of the local food industry.
Crispin, a mechanical engineer, and Ma. Luz, a food technologist, have seen the big potential of ubi in food processing as they learned that fruit processing makes up 35 percent of the food processing pie followed by bakery products at 25 percent. So, in 2000 they decided to quit their respective jobs and focused on making products that the bakery sector needs.
Crispin noticed that there was an abundant supply of ubi in his home province of La Union, so he took advantage of this and processed the tubers into puree using the processing equipment he himself designed. Besides, he thought that he could help ubi growers in the area earn extra income by encouraging them to sell their produce to him.
Their business started in a backyard-scale utilizing a space that the couple rented as a processing area. “My wife was the one who developed our products since she is a food technology graduate while I took charge of production and marketing,” he said.
Ubi jam and puree are the first and the flagship products of Sunlight Foods, comprising about 60 percent of its total production, according to Crispin.
As the market requires, the company also processes macapuno, langka, carrots, banana (lakatan and saba), and strawberry.
While looking for a stable market, the couple approached the Red Ribbon Bakeshop, one of the established local bakeshops known for its quality cakes and pastries. Confident of the high quality of their ubi product, the couple offered their ubi puree to the management, citing the benefits that the bakeshop could get from using their ubi puree.
The couple applied the same strategy to Gardenia, and from there, it was on from one market to another. From a backyard venture, the company grew into a medium-scale enterprise that caters to big food companies in the country.
Today, Red Ribbon and Gardenia are two of the big food companies that Sunlight Foods supplies with its ubi puree. It also supplies to Chowking, Fitrite, Jollibee and Selectä, and exports bottled preserves to Japan, Europe, United States, Canada and Middle East through consolidators. Of the company’s total production, 95 percent goes to local market and the rest is exported.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE DID WONDERS
Sunlight Foods has met its markets’ standards and the increasing product demands, thanks to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) that extended the needed technical assistance to the company.
Last year, the company availed of the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program through the DOST-National Capital Region, which provided it with needed equipment such as hon zontal steam retort, steam jacketed kettle, and boiler accessories. The program also included trainings and consultancy on product standardization, Cleaner Production Assessment, and ISO 2000 Food Safety Management Systems.
As a result, the company is currently looking at a potential 100 percent increase in sales. This is attributed to the 300 percent increase in cooking capacity. Cooking time has been reduced from 1.5 hours for 120 kilos of ubi to 45 minutes for 240 kilos of ubi.
The company has optimized also its utilization time and manpower which is now numbering to 50, including Crispin. It also reduced its water consumption by 40 percent and the solid wastes it generated after the implementation of cleaner production techniques.
RAW MATERIALS SUPPLY REMAINS A CHALLENGE
Due to the increasing market demand for its products, Sunlight Foods is in need of a stable supply of quality raw materials, especially ubi. The company would require a minimum of 250 metric tons of ubi tubers this year for the production of ubi jam and ubi puree, says Crispin.
The company has been getting its ubi supply from growers in Northern Luzon, CALABARZON, Palawan, and Mindanao. This year, however, Crispin sees a decrease in ubi growers’ production due to the effect of climate change and the damage brought about by pests and diseases.
On the other hand, the availability of raw materials for Sunlight Foods’ other products also depends on the seasonality of the fruits. This is why the company sources them from different locations to have a year-round supply of these.
“I have attempted to approach the office of the Department of Agriculture’s High Value Commercial Crops but failed to get information from it as to where I could get a reliable source of good quality ubi,” Crispin said.
PARTNERSHIP WITH FARMERS
Crispin is hoping that a recent partnership with ubi growers in Ilocos through the help of a friend from Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University will help increase the supply of this valuable rootcrop.
He said his friend has initially established his own 1-hectare ubi plantation and a processing plant, and now supplies Sunlight Foods with dried ubi at a rate of 100 kilograms (kg) per week. He expects this volume to increase up to 400 kg per week with the expansion of the processing plant and the additional production from farmers. He said his friend will process all the farmers’ produce and then delivered to the company, ensuring incomes for the farmers.
At current market price, Sunlight Foods buys fresh ubi tubers at P12-P15 per kg and the dried ubi chips for P250-P300 per kg.
The company strictly requires varieties that have purple tubers because white-fleshed tubers do not meet the company’s standards for processing. “We’ve tried processing those white-fleshed tubers but it resulted in product with undesirable texture and low quality,” says Crispin.
As of this writing, Sunlight Foods is working on a possible tie up with a foundation under Miriam College which plans to put up a livelihood program in one of the barangays in Tanay, Rizal where around 100 hectares of farm lands will be planted to high-value crops, including ubi.
Crispin also coordinates with fellow members in PHILFOODEX so that they could address the shortage of ubi and other raw materials needed by the food processing sector. He said that the market is there and what it needs is a stable supply of good-quality raw materials.
Crispin further aims to create additional livelihood for the local fainters by serving as a ready market for their harvest. In the case of ubi, he is optimistic that the establishment of processing facility, which he is willing to assist, will help more farmers in the rural areas create more employment and increase their income.
By Melpha M. Abello