Cotabato residents chill with icy treat
KORONADAL CITY, Philippines—There are days when a busy street near the public market here gets clogged up by a long line of people. Most are children craving for a home-grown brand of ice candy.
For P5, one can take a break from South Cotabato’s sweltering heat courtesy of the ice buko salad being peddled on the streets.
“It bursts with milky fruity flavors ... my children love them,” says Janice Cabasag, 29, a mother of three. “We make a trip daily to our favorite vendor across the house to buy ice buko salad.”
Janice knows whereof she speaks. She is part of a team that produces the icy treat that has become quite a hit in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.
She reveals that the ice buko salad is made up of papaya, coconut meat and nata de coco.
Then there’s the milk, which completes “a hearty feast,” she says.
The man behind the icy concoction is Francisco Ladeza, 40.
In 2003, he dreamt of a business mainly based on coconuts.
Francisco, who was born in Cagayan de Oro, was a director of a fertilizer company in Sultan Kudarat at that time.
Whenever he felt thirsty, he would climb a tree to pluck a coconut which he would consume right there and then, he says.
That same summer, Francisco talked his wife Jane into opening up a business.
In 2003, Jane was running a small retail store.
“Let’s just try it, and if it won’t click then we can always look for other businesses,” Francisco told his wife at that time.
Jane, now 36, went along with the idea.
The couple initially packed 200 ice candy plastic bags with strips of papaya, nata de coco, coconut meat, and lots of milk.
They placed the filled bags in the freezer then, the following morning, they packed the bags in ice boxes and sold them from a store just across their house.
In two days, the couple sold out 200 pieces of ice buko salad worth P4.
The turnout at the time was strong, Francisco says, and that prompted him to carefully consider his next steps.
First, he quit his job. Then the couple put up Ladeza Ice Buko Salad. Soon, they raised the production volume to a thousand pieces of the icy treat.
Their business grew, and every neighborhood store in the city began carrying their product.
In the early months, the Ladezas struggled to find the right suppliers for their growing production.
“All papaya growers sell their produce to Dole, the same with [producers of] nata de coco,” he says. “I had to beg them to grow more and save some of the papaya and nata de coco for me.”
Francisco also recalls how, at one time, all the stores in the city ran out of evaporated milk.
He and his wife searched for milk everywhere—from Gen. Santos to Kidapawan and Tacurong, Francisco says.
“I know there was still milk out there, I just had to look for it. I couldn’t gamble the quality [of our product], otherwise it would be the end of the business.”
A milk distributor solved the couple’s problems when the company started delivering 100 cases of evaporated milk to the Ladezas every week. Soon, a sugar company followed suit.
According to Francisco, his workers would use up a thousand cans of evaporated milk and eight sacks of refined sugar every week to produce 16,000 pieces of ice buko salad.
To keep up with demand, the couple established a network of fruit growers to supply their daily needs.
Barely a year after they started operations, the Ladezas’ product crossed the borders of South Cotabato to reach markets in nearby provinces.
They found a strategic place in Kidapawan City which would enable them to reach out to potential markets in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur.
“If things turn out okay, by early next year, we can start operating there,” he reveals.
The Ladeza’s have also shared their production secret with friends in Iligan, Bukidnon and Cavite.
With the rise in income, the Ladezas decided to expand the production area at their home.
They now maintain a storeroom large enough to contain 50 freezers. They also started hiring workers—17 poor women with children now take turns to produce the ice buko salad.
Ladeza is also completing a facility that will house the entire workforce, along with the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment for making ice candy.
Francisco admits entrepreneurship is both rewarding and painstaking. The Ladeza are happy with the current setup—his wife takes care of managing the workforce and Francisco looks after the marketing.
As the years passed, business even became better. They were able to build a house and send their boy to an international school in Manila. They also now have eight tricycles.
Francisco, who is also a pastor of a church in nearby Lutayan town, is now busy helping out members of his family and community.
“This is not only business. I believe God put me in this post to be of help to the people around me, especially my neighbors who live in poverty,” he says.
For the Ladeza couple, people, not profits, come first.
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