Wednesday, June 28, 2006


(this piece was written last year)

Building an empire on better mangoes

Buying a mango in the Philippines is almost like ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks, there is such a wide variety to choose from and surveying the luscious yellow skinned fruit has been known to cause some people to shiver with delight just by merely anticipating the taste of its nectar oozing from its lush canary colored flesh.

While most Pinoys can easily spot the difference between an Indian mango and a mangang kalabaw, there are a very few people who can actually tell you what kind of mango tree bore the fruit and in which town in which province it came from with just a cursory glance.

Roberto “Bobby” C. Amores, the President of HI-LAS Marketing Corporation, is one of those people and he has made it his business to know just about everything there is to know about mangoes. Knowing which varieties bear the sweetest fruit and keep best while in transit had translated into realizing tidy profits almost regardless of the economic conditions prevailing in the country.

He started in the mango exporting business 29 years ago with a couple of friends during their graduating year at the University of the Philippines.

“What struck me and got me into the food business is its necessity, meaning there will always be a demand for food. I naturally gravitated towards agri-business because of my love of farming and my fondness for the countryside,” said Amores who also explained that since setting up his company, mangoes had been his first and only business.

You may call it beginners luck, but during the first year of operating his fresh mango exporting business, Bobby and his friends made about a million pesos in gross sales and that was at a time when even one percent of that would have been enough to build a decent house in Metro Manila.
However, in the succeeding months, it soon dawned on him that running a business based on entirely on the production and sale mangoes would soon test his commitment and passion for the business. Dealing in fresh mangoes meant dealing with perishable commodities and as often is the case, spoilage or even failing to pass strict quality standards overseas can sometimes mean rejected shipments and a major loss of revenue as well as capital. The friends who had started the business with him soon found their interest and commitment flagging after a few setbacks, eventually leaving Bobby alone to keep the business running.

Rather than dwelling on his losses, he stuck with the business and in the succeeding years gross annual sales improving to tens of millions.

“More than anything else, it our commitment to delivering quality that has allowed us to endure all manner of setbacks whether it is political, economic, or even natural. This has led us at HI LAS to equate quality with survival,” said Bobby.

He explained that it was his company’s reputation for delivering the highest quality of fresh and processed fruits that enabled him to make a comeback after every setback.

“There was a time when everything seemed bound for disaster. This was when the Asian Financial Crisis exploded into the scene, hiking up interest rates on our backing credit which we were hard pressed to service. As if this was not enough, this was followed by a natural calamity which damaged the fruit crop for a season, leading to increased costs and all manner of business losses,” said Amores.

He explained that because of his good standing among his buyers in the United States, Europe, Japan, and South Korea he was able to weather the pitfalls of the fruit export industry and recoup his losses.

At present, Amores as well as other mango exporters are hyped up about emerging opportunities for greater growth. At present, the Philippines can only address 2.5 percent of the global demand because of the lack in exportable supply. Significantly, the 2.5 percent serviced by Philippine mango exporters represents export earnings pegged at around P15 billion a year.
With the Philippines being virtually just next door neighbors with China, it would not be difficult to figure that capturing just 10% of its 1.2 billion consumers might mean shipping out more than 40 million kilos of mangoes a year which would be a sizeable boon for our country’s mango farmers and traders.

It is because of this that Bobby, apart from running his business, has many times and in countless ways involved itself in promoting the interest of both fruit exporters and farmers. Beyond advocating modern farm practices and compliance with international food standards, he is currently lending a hand in giving food manufacturers and exporters a venue for much needed exposure to international buyers.

As the current President of the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc. (Philfoodex), Bobby Amores has set about to making the upcoming 5th Philippine Food Expo 2006 stand out from the first four.

Next year, Philfoodex will bring together makes of the best in Philippine food products with over 270 food entrepreneurs and industry-partners from all over the country participating. It is in this trade event where we will see a wide display of food products yet to be seen in supermarkets and groceries.

Apart from playing to an international crowd, one of the largest food expos next year also supports the BUY PINOY Movement and aims to help strengthen the country’s locally bred SMEs which account for over 90 percent of the Philippine GDP.

“We’re not in business just for money because businesses that value profit to the great neglect of social responsibility will eventually run out of business. We have to give back and in giving back, we are rewarded many times in return,” says Bobby.

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