Sunday, May 31, 2009

One artist’s labor bears fruit

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:09:00 05/31/2009

Filed Under: Arts (general), Beverages, Economy and Business and Finance
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IMUS, Cavite – Art connoisseur Roberto Castañeda wanted to promote Filipino culture in a different way when he thought of putting up a business in 2000.

While most art and culture advocates make use of theater, visual arts and literary pieces to promote culture, Castañeda uses wine as his own way of helping Filipinos – culturally and economically.

With P250,000, he formally started Don Roberto’s Winery as sole proprietorship in 2001 after a year of planning, research, and experimentation.

From sole proprietorship, the winery became Don Roberto’s Winery Corp. after experiencing a year of growth and success in the field of wine production.

More and more people got interested in the business since it offered unique products.

Don Roberto’s Wine is known worldwide for its products: Ripe mango wine, green mango wine and the soon-to-be-launched brewed coffee wine.

“The main aim of the business is for us to be known as the first producer of mango and coffee wine in the world,” Castañeda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“We also want to enrich the global wine culture with unique, exotic and exquisite mango and coffee wine.”

Starting the winery

Castañeda is a Business Administration graduate who later pursued a career in culture and arts. At some point, he was part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where he served as one of its performing artists.

He was also affiliated with the Centro Cultural de España.

Although he was deep into the promotion of culture and arts, particularly music, his interest in business never wavered. From time to time, he would engage in family business ventures.

In 2000, before he thought of running a winery business, he was planning to put up his own restaurant in Baguio.

For six months, he stayed in the Cordillera where he engaged in the arts, as well as charity work.

He was invited to teach in a seminary, where he also served as hospice volunteer. Later, he mounted a religious musical production there.

The idea of starting a winery came while he was staying in the seminary.

“I really have this passion for cooking, and my interest was caught when I saw a nun in the seminary making wine out of strawberry and pomelo,” Castañeda recalled.

He asked the nun how he could make his own wine.

At first, the nun was hesitant because the concoction was said to be a 100-year-old secret Belgian recipe.

“But out of gratitude, the nun eventually told me how to make fruit wine on condition that I wouldn’t tell anyone how the fruit wines are made,” said Castañeda.

When he returned to his hometown of Imus, he tried to learn all there was to know about fruit wines, hoping to develop his own version which would be different from what the nun had taught him.

“One night, I was watching a news program on TV where the 2001 Cebu Mango Congress was featured,” Castañeda recalled.

He bought some mangoes the day after, having decided to promote local mangoes on his own.

Starting the business was never easy as Castañeda literally had to go places to learn more about fruit wines, specifically, mango wine.

Before he decided to start his winery, he went to Orange County and Europe to study wine-making.

“The preparation process took me a year as I didn’t want to introduce a product below [par],” said Castañeda, who considered research and development to be a crucial phase in the winery business.

After some experimentation, he turned his house in Imus into a winery, where he initially produced 200 vats of wine.

Soon after, Castañeda had to move to a larger winery because of the surprising growth in demand for ripe and green mango wine abroad.


Castañeda had set out not only to promote Filipino culture globally but to help other entrepreneurs as well.

He ensured that other people would also benefit from the success of the business, thus, he imposed a systematic way of outsourcing that would benefit not just one mango supplier.

From January to June, Don Roberto’s Winery Corp. would get its mangoes from producers in Luzon. From July to December, mangoes from Visayas and Mindanao producers would be delivered.

In addition, the coffee used in the development of the brewed coffee wine came from Cavite.

The coffee wine will be launched in June.

“Even ordinary coffee peddlers in Cavite benefit from this business,” said Castañeda. “From ordinary peddlers to high-end wine distributors, our winery is doing its part in providing opportunities for many people.”

Globally competitive

Castañeda admitted that one of the challenges of his business was product familiarity among potential buyers.

But Don Roberto’s Ripe Mango and Green Mango wine has been recognized internationally, already reaping a number of awards.

The products have also been featured in a number of business publications in the United States, Japan, Korea and Europe.

But the international publicity that his business has generated made it prone to product imitation.

“Now, there are at least six companies trying to imitate our products, but I am confident they will never succeed,” said Castañeda, adding that his products are all protected by patent.

Castañeda takes pride in using local mangoes in his wine, making Filipino products more popular in the global market.

“The mangoes that we have here remain the best among those I have tasted. And I am happy that I have this opportunity to let other people around the world have a taste of it.”

The brewed coffee wine, meanwhile, is expected to promote the coffee industry in Cavite.

‘Health is wealth’ takes on whole new meaning

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:17:00 05/31/2009

Filed Under: Food, Health, Economy and Business and Finance, Family
Most Read

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA – Health buffs are in for a treat when they swing by a new dining place here.

Herb Republic, which opened on April 22 in time for Earth Day, is a restaurant concerned not only with the food it serves, but also the health and lifestyle of its patrons.

Owned by the Pantua brothers – Herbert, 40, and Rainer, 33 – the restaurant also maintains its own poultry and mini farm to ensure that only organic and natural ingredients are used in the dishes they serve.

From beverages to the main course, Herb Republic offers nothing but all-organic ingredients.

No alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are not offered in the restaurant since the owners believe that there are healthier options available.

“In coming up with this business, we primarily considered the wellness of the customers since both of us [brothers] are interested in eating ‘green’ food items,” Herbert says.

The idea of putting up a restaurant with a twist started in the latter part of 2008. The planning phase continues to this day, even after the restaurant has already opened to the public.

“Planning is still ongoing since we are not yet done in developing the restaurant area, as well as the things that we can offer to potential customers,” Herbert explains. “We also want people to realize that healthy eating does not always have to be expensive.”

He also wants to shatter the notion that “green” food items are only for the well-off since most restaurants offering such dishes serve them at high prices.

“At Herb Republic, that negative notion is debunked,” Herbert says.

For only P50 to P200, he adds, one can have a healthy meal.

The Pantua brothers refuse to disclose the amount of capital they have raised to start the business, claiming that there are more important things than the money they have spent in putting up the restaurant.

“The time and effort we have been devoting to this business are priceless,” Rainer tells the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

According to Herbert, the business, “is actually a collective effort.”

“Other members of the family are contributing their time and ideas [to help the business grow],” Herbert says. “We want to encourage our customers to do the same.”

Green chicken

The Herb Republic owners are still developing the one-hectare property where the restaurant is located.

A few meters from the restaurant, is the brothers’ poultry facility where they tend to their “green chicken.”

“What we serve here are purely organic chicken,” says Herbert. “It means that each serving of chicken dish in our restaurant is guaranteed healthy since there are no artificial or antibiotic supplements given to the chicken.”

Each chicken is also guaranteed fresh since what they serve are only slaughtered that same day.

The main challenge in putting up and maintaining this kind of business is how to introduce the idea of eating healthy to potential customers.

Health buffs are not only their main targets, according to the brothers.

“Everyone can try eating here so they can appreciate the importance of living a healthy lifestyle,” says Herbert.

Apart from serving up healthy food, the owners of Herb Republic also plan to offer their customers modules and informal lectures on organic farming to raise their awareness.

We are aiming for sustainability here, says Rainer. “It would be interesting if the restaurant goers would learn how to do organic farming themselves.”

Herb Republic is located in Barangay Maahas, Los Baños, Laguna, 62 kilometers south of Manila.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Retiree mines health, wealth in herbal trade

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:03:00 05/24/2009

Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance, Health

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – When Tito Contado, 73, retired from his job, he had no plans of looking for other sources of income or putting up a business, knowing he had saved enough for his retirement.

As former chief of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Service of Agricultural Education and Extension, his retirement benefits were more than enough to provide for his and his family’s needs.

But through his research, he learned of the herbal supplement business, and decided to pursue it, despite the highly competitive market.

In 2001, Contado formally established the PhilMorinda Citrifolia Inc. here.

PhilMorinda produces PhilNONI, a natural dietary supplement extracted from the medicinal plant Noni.

Sowing the business

The idea of producing PhilNONI occurred to Contado in 1999 when he was on vacation with his family in their hometown in Leyte.

“My sister-in-law kept on telling me stories about Noni, a medicinal plant that is abundant in Leyte, and claimed that her son who had a tumor was helped by this plant,” he recalled.

As someone who was into research work, his curiosity encouraged him to conduct his own study on Noni to prove the claims of his sister-in-law.

Then a skeptic of herbal medicines, Contado did not instantly believe what his sister-in-law told him. “But I observed the changes on my nephew’s health, which somehow convinced me that there was something about that medicinal plant.”

“I immediately recognized it as a common tree in Eastern Samar where I grew up. I had been playing with the smelly rotten fruits and cutting the tree as fencing material,” he recalled.

He gathered as much information as he could from different libraries that he could access. Later, he tried the fruit himself.

Contado was once pricked by a crab shell in Tacloban and his wife couldn’t control the bleeding.

He tried drinking a bottle of Noni fruit juice, hoping to experience relief, the way his nephew had.

“It helped stop the bleeding. The next day, the wound had healed,” Contado says.

This encouraged him to come out with a product that would actually help people.

“As a researcher, it has always been my goal to help people experience the benefits that science brings. This is actually what lacks here [in the Philippines] there are tons of researches but most of them do not give birth to tangible products that the people need,” he says.

His researches led him to the fruit of the plant, unlike other manufacturers of herbal products who focused on the leaves or barks.

Contado has chosen the fruit because of the seeds that contain melatonin, ascorbic acid, potassium and other components needed by the body.

With a million pesos, he formally established his herbal supplement business.


After securing the necessary permits to operate a business, Contado officially sold the products of combined scientific researches – PhilNONI herbal supplement.

PhilNONI’s initial buyers were friends and those referred to him by friends. But the business did not cease growing as more people got interested on the product.

The increase in demand for PhilNONI prompted Contado to export his product in 2006 –particularly in Switzerland, United States, and South Korea.

“I feel elated that this venture has expanded into something I never imagined it could. All I wanted then was to share what I had discovered and proven,” he claimed.

“I do not consider this venture as pure business, but a developmental one in which you combine learning, studying and entrepreneurship.”

Contado admitted that establishing his product in a market already filled with herbal supplements, all claiming to be the best, exposed it to negative notions.

“Some people are cynical about the product, which is understandable, since you see herbal supplements almost everywhere today,” he said. “But our product is different as we have supporting researches to prove it, and we do not deceive our clients and potential clients by claiming that PhilNONI is a cure-all juice.”

Contado clarified that PhilNONI could not replace antibiotics and other medications that a person needs, but it can “help the body help itself.”

“From lowering high blood pressure to improving resistance in fighting cancer, PhilNONI can help,” he said.

For the product to be more accessible to more people, Contado often makes adjustments to his product.

“We now have smaller bottles of the juice and capsules for those who have limited budget but are interested in trying our product,” he said.

After almost eight years in the business, Contado claimed that the profit he got is very minimal.

“The greatest reward that I get is the chance to share how helpful scientific researches can be to the community and the people.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5 friends start book drive for pupils

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:07:00 05/20/2009

Filed Under: Education, Children

DISTANCE did not hinder five friends from Los Baños town in Laguna from giving back to their community.

Now based in the United States and Canada, they communicated online and in 2002 decided to help the children of their town by donating books and learning materials.

The five – Sheilachu Paje-Ramos, of Granesville, Florida; Ching Redmond, of Missouri; Rhodora Maligalig, of Glendale, California; Eloisa Labadan-Anton, of Vancouver, Canada; and Arelyne Pacho-Ramos, of Deptford, New Jersey – put up an informal organization that would take charge of the project.

They called their group the Friends of Los Baños Children (FLBC).

Alfinetta Zamora, Pacho-Ramos’ sister, is the coordinator in Los Baños and has been tasked with reaching out to local schools. Her home in Barangay Anos serves as the group’s informal office.

Starting the Project

Each member exerted effort to solicit any amount from Filipinos based in the United States to at least defray the cost of sending the items to Los Baños. Some donated $50 to $100 cash.
Their friends and contacts gave the books and reading materials. When there’s extra money, they buy new reading materials.

Pacho-Ramos said in an e-mail message that the group found it ironic that no single public library for students existed in the 14 barangay (villages) of Los Baños. The friends thought of putting up one, but this was not feasible logistically so they decided to just donate the books and learning materials to the schools.

They deemed that this could help, especially the elementary pupils of public schools who were often given outdated books and did not have enough books to read.

“Each school was asked to submit a proposal so we could determine their needs,” said Zamora.

“Not all [schools] immediately showed interest, which somehow made our task more daunting,” she adds.

On its initial months, the FLBC was able to send 12 boxes containing books, magazines and other library materials.

In 2003, the FLBC started giving books to the Hasik Bagong Buhay Elementary School when it opened in Barangay Bayog. The school library was given a set of Encyclopedia Junior Britannica.

“What makes the project more interesting is that it promotes coordination between parents and school administration,” Zamora said.

The school has not been able to hire a librarian, but a volunteer started working for the library after the FLBC sent several donations.

Barely three years after its inception, the FLBC has given educational materials to 15 academic institutions, mostly public elementary schools.

“From simple books for the children, the FLBC also extended help to teachers who are in dire need of materials,” Zamora said. The FLBC donated office supplies and dictionaries for the teachers.

Ruth Camacho, principal of the Paciano Rizal Elementary School, expressed gratitude for the friends’ initiative. “The great impact of the project is reflected on the eagerness of the students to read since they see updated books in our library.”

“With the help of the FLBC, every shelf in the library is now filled with updated books and encyclopedias. This project has also motivated the teachers to teach in a better way,” Camacho said.

Before she was promoted, Camacho taught at the Bagong Silang Elementary School, one of the recipients of the FLBC. The school is found in Mt. Makiling.

The FLBC has given the school a computer set. “The students had not seen a real computer until the FLBC gave us one. There was no electricity in the area then, but we managed to request for a generator so the students could use it,” Camacho said.

She said Zamora had to walk for more than one hour just to bring the computer set.


The FLBC makes sure that each beneficiary school gives the students access to the books and other materials. “From time to time, we visit the schools to make sure that the children are getting what they need,” Zamora said.
The group is looking at more school beneficiaries. “It [FLBC] may be a small solution to a very big problem, but each part is as important as the whole,” she said.

“As long as you are determined, nothing is impossible.”