Truly an exceptional and delicious coconut jam, because it is made entirely from freshly harvested fresh and selected coconut to extract fresh coconut milk, which is then blended with organic sugar to make the jam more suitable for health-conscious people.
Ingredients: Fresh Coconut Milk, and Sugar
Naujan Oriental Mindoro
The Chinese traditionally regarded glutinous rice as a symbol of wealth, abundance, and family cohesiveness. The full-packed rice is believed to usher prosperity. One of these rice-based delicacies is suman sa lihiya, one of the all-time favorite traditional Filipino foods. Suman sa lihiya too is one of the two flagship products of Merl’s Native Delicacies, the other being coco jam. The partner products are popular pasalubong items not only in Calapan City but also in several areas in the province.
Merl’s Native Delicacies is a family business that was started in 2000 by Merlita Bolus, wife of Ferdinand Bolus, owner of the business. At the time, the couple already had a ready-to-wear stall in the local public market but business was not profitable with the establishment of commercial centers in the province. Mrs. Bolus loves cooking, and one day she tried preparing suman sa lihiya using a kilo of glutinous rice. The goodies were displayed in their RTW store and sold like hotcakes, the suman’s imported counterpart.
From then on, she prepared suman and sold them every day until the couple realized that Mrs. Bolus’s passion for cooking native delicacies can be a way to provide an alternative source of income for the whole family. Eventually, the family decided to concentrate on the suman sa lihiya with coco jam business.
As expected, the business experienced its share of ups and downs. In 2009, the firm produced a monthly average of 24,000 pieces of suman paired with coco jam in sachets and 900 bottles of coco jam. Though the number of suman orders grew, the business was limited by the old production equipment and accessories composed of two aluminum steamers, four heavy duty stoves, a 10kg-capacity weighing scale, seven plastic crates, five impulse sealers, two casseroles, two cooking vats, and three wooden working tables which limit their productivity and compromise food safety.
Although the firm used cooking kettles with mixer in the preparation of coco jam, the volume produced per day was limited due to the long cooking time which took about three to four hours per batch at two batches per day. The firm’s workspace was also limited as the production area was also the family’s residence. Coconut milk was also sourced from the wet market that made it prone to microbial contamination and shortened shelf life.
The downside from said restrictions directly affected the firm’s market reach which was limited to Calapan City. Nevertheless, the couple was not hindered by these challenges. Day in and out, they kept thinking of ways to improve their production and competitiveness of their products to capture a bigger share in the local market.
Facing the challenges
The year 2010 marked Merl’s Native Delicacies differently. It was when DOST-MIMAROPA through DOST-Oriental Mindoro granted the enterprise Php 65,000 for label design and packaging materials under DOST-MIMAROPA’s GIA Project “Innovative Packaging of Food Products.”
The firm took on a more modern packaging for suman sa lihiya, from the traditional wrapping made of banana leaves packed using ordinary plastic to a heat sealed thicker polyethylene (PE) material placed inside sturdy and attractively designed boxes. Since the products were good for only a few days, the firm invested in an innovation through the advice of DOST-MIMAROPA and proceeded to purchase a vacuum-packaging machine to further lengthen the products’ shelf-life. Eventually, the products reached a broader market.
The firm also went through a series of food safety training and benchmarking activities in 2010 with other DOSTassisted MSMEs in projects located as far as provinces in the Western Visayas Region like Iloilo and Negros Occidental. Further, DOST-SETUP granted an innovation system support totaling PhP 780,000.00, enabling the firm to procure the following technology package designed to cater to its critical technology needs: stainless cabinet steamer, stainless steel working tables, nutritional analysis, secondary packaging materials, enhanced label designs, and dispenser. The cabinet steamer can accommodate 2,080 pieces of suman per batch with a maximum of 3-4 batches per day, far from its usual production of 800 pieces per day before.
Hitting the target
The S&T interventions from SETUP and GIA funds translated to more than 300 percent increase in the productivity of the firm — from 800 pieces of rice cake and 30 jars of coco jam per day to an average of 3,411 pieces of rice cake and 63 jars of coco jam to date. Increase in employment also ran to 100 percent, from 11 to 22 direct workers in 2010, plus an increase in gross income of 250 percent. By the end of 2011 and to date, Merl’s has a total of 52 employees working 30 days per month.
The improvement in packaging and labeling proved to be a great market strategy for the firm, enabling it to double its market. Merl’s widened its market reach via new outlets outside the province namely SM Hypermarket; Barrio Fiesta in Alabang, Muntinlupa City; and other provinces and cities like San Juan, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Tagaytay, and Santiago. The suman sa lihiya business has also penetrated the Robinsons Supermarket in Neo Calapan Mall as well as other local grocery and shops in Calapan City.
With these developments, Merl’s had to acquire a brand new delivery van to facilitate the business operations to cater to its fast growing market demand. Merl’s Native Delicacies is also a constant trade fair exhibitor in Metro Manila and MIMAROPA. The firm was even featured in Go Negosyo and other entrepreneurship radio and TV programs in cooperation with DTI. Because of its spurt in sales and production due to DOST intervention, the firm had to expand its workplace from one-fourth of the facility to using the whole area for production. To date, the workplace is under renovation and improvement as it works toward alignment to cGMP and food safety standards. The pilot-testing of the DOST-ITDIdesigned water retort to further extend product shelf life to more than six months is underway as initiated by DOSTMIMAROPA through PSTC-Oriental Mindoro.
Indeed, Merl’s proved that the lowly suman sa lihiya has made its way up in the market with the growing number of outlets it has established. Spouses Ferdie and Merl continue to dream of having a state-of-the-art production facility in the future. Also, the couple has a common mindset of helping small entrepreneurs which they do by displaying their products at Merl’s showroom. The couple has also invested hard-earned money to put up a food patio for their customers who wish to take a bite of their famous suman sa lihiya and coco jam right after purchasing it at their processing plant outlet/store. The potential for growth of Merl’s suman sa lihiya is, without a doubt, fully-packed with abundance