By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 00:31:00 06/21/2009
Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance, Entrepreneurship, Corporate social responsibility
SAN PEDRO, LAGUNA – Four siblings here have struck gold by spinning out a whole line of natural wellness products from “tanglad,” or lemon grass.
Lilia Baligod-Pelayo, 61, with her brothers Romeo, 71; Jose, 68; and Bienvenido, 67 – all surnamed Baligod – put up Gold in Grass Corp. (GIGC), which produces Essencia, natural care products made from lemon grass.
Widely known as a culinary herb, “tanglad” has other significant uses most people are not aware of, according to Pelayo.
“We’ve read so much about lemon grass and we thought it would be a good idea to introduce its healthy benefits through a business,” Pelayo said.
The idea of starting a business out of lemon grass made more sense to the siblings because they were all eager to help farmers in rural areas.
“We were born in Kalinga, and we initially planned to establish a business there to help one of the province’s poorest communities,” said Pelayo.
The siblings also wanted to come up with a worthwhile venture after retirement.
“We didn’t want to be idle after retirement and maintaining a business was a logical option,” said Pelayo.
With P10 million, GIGC acquired its first five-hectare plantation in San Francisco, Kalinga, in 2001, hoping to help the farmers in the area, according to Pelayo, a retired accountant.
After preparing the land, they started to look for distilling equipment, which they would need to process the lemon grass extract.
It took some time before GIGC had a proper distilling equipment in place.
Bienvenido, an engineer, came up with an innovative distilling machine, especially designed for their business, in 2003.
The distilling equipment can process a ton of lemon grass in 1.5 hours. It can produce 2.5 liters of oil per ton of lemon grass.
This same distilling equipment was included as a finalist in the 2003 Asian Innovation Awards in Singapore.
This made the siblings more confident in their distilling equipment.
“The land we bought would be useless if there was no efficient distilling equipment to come with it,” said Pelayo.
However, the first few years of the business were not easy for the four.
The research and development phase took almost three years.
They also had to transfer to another area as their aim of helping the community did not turn out well.
“Some community residents thought we were literally digging for gold [at] the plantation,” Pelayo recalled. “It is not something good for the business, so we decided to look for another ... plantation.”
In 2004, they transferred to Lasam, Cagayan Valley, where they still maintain a four-hectare plantation.
But the lemon grass extracts produced in the plantation were not enough to cope with the demand at that time.
Three years after they transferred to Cagayan Valley, they were able to acquire another four-hectare piece of land in Sariaya, Quezon, and proceeded to expand production.
The lemon grass extracts gave way to the development of a number of Essencia products produced by GIGC. These natural care products include massage oil, reed diffuser oil, insect repellant, foot scrub, foot lotion, shampoo, conditioner and soap.
They also introduced the lemon grass hydrosol (lemon grass water extract) which, according to Pelayo, helps in lowering one’s cholesterol level.
Lemon grass oil is also said to have antiseptic, antimicrobial and analgesic properties.
“It also helps combat stress and exhaustion,” said Pelayo, who developed most of the products through trial and error. “These are safe since we do not mix harmful chemicals in our products.”
Essencia products have found their way in a number of day spas not only in Laguna and Metro Manila, but also in the Visayas and Mindanao.
GIGC now plans to sell their products in the international market.
With the success of GIGC, the siblings never fail to give back what is due to the community.
They continue to help landless farmers living near their plantations.
Apart from its 12 regular employees, GIGC has also provided livelihood opportunities to more than 40 farmers.
Pelayo also shared that they are doing their fair share in helping the environment.
“While providing employment in rural communities, planting aromatic herbs like lemon grass helps in maintaining balance in the ecosystem.”
According to Pelayo, they are now in the process of introducing more aromatic herbs like ilang-ilang to be used in their products.
GIGC maintains an office at the family home on Gladiola Street, Sampaguita Village, San Pedro, Laguna. It also has a showroom in Makati City.