Replicating the business model of the extravagantly successful Salcedo Market and its lesser-known sister market may not be too hard, but duplicating its success may be the real challenge, as Andrew has found out. From an initial 33 concessionaires--many of them drawn from these two bazaars--when he first started last November 6 inside the basketball court, it is now down to around just a dozen.
His Friday experiment lasted all of four months. Undaunted, he moved it to the weekend starting in March. “People prefer to go on Saturdays,” Andrew explained. Unfortunately, many of his former concessionaires had conflicting schedules elsewhere so he ended up with fewer sellers but with more buyers. He figures it is just a matter of time--and enough publicity--before he gets the right balance.
Despite its name, it is not limited to organic products--although that is its central focus, in accordance with Andrew’s health and wellness motif. His concessionaires are not limited to BF residents either. His only criterion is that there should be no two sellers of the same product. He provides the tent; you bring your own table and chairs or you could rent from him; and electricity is free.
I had been eyeing the Organic Market ever since I saw his ads around the BF commercial area and Dariel and I finally had the chance to visit one Saturday. Even with only eight concessionaires present that day, we had no regrets dropping by. After all, you go to any bazaar to find stuff you cannot get in your regular supermarkets.
The latter promised to be very interesting, as it was carabao's milk kesong puti treated to a native smoking process, hence the darker hue and the name, kesong pinoy. How was it? As good as we had hoped, and even better! The smoke flavor is sharp and clear, but not overwhelmingly heavy--it must be the wood used. I discovered a great way to enjoy this cheese, by microwaving it on High for a few seconds. Heating the cheese thus renders it into a flavorful and wonderfully not-so-gooey mess that's perfect on hot pan de sal. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise--after all, it's made from the same kind of milk as mozzarella.
Why cheese? I asked Rico. “After my masters I was already thinking of having my own business. Someone from the government just mentioned it to me, if I wanted to make my own cheese,” he explained. “I looked at the internet, did some little research then I looked at how cheese was made and I found it kinda doable. I just studied on my own; did research; bought books and after making the finished products, I gave it to my friends; got feedback; tried selling it in small markets then I got feedback again and made research on what other cheese products people might buy as well. I also consulted some people in the know.”
Why Mambos? Rico laughs as he recalled the origins of his brand name. “When I was trying to figure out the brand name for my products, it had to have a strong brand name recall. I thought of using the name that my former officemates used to call me, which was (Rico) Mambo, that's why I came up with Mambo. I just added an “s” just like when you say Mambos green tea, Mambos guyabano juice, Mambos goat cheese.” It may be a little, uh, cheesy, but hey, it works.
He started experimenting with regular cream cheeses in 2005 but only in mid-2008 did he put up his dairy operations to complement his fruit processing business. Today, he has fresh cheeses and the regular processed ones. Rico gets his supply of carabao’s milk from the Philippine Carabao Center and his goat’s milk from suppliers in Pangasinan. At the start, he used garlic powder but is now growing his own fresh garlic (and other herbs) from which he extracts the juice.
We pause in our conversation as Rico entertains a customer who buys his other bestselling cheese, the fresh Herb and Garlic, which comes in both carabao’s and goat’s milk versions. This cheese, he says, is a favorite of foreigners; Filipinos have taken to it as well. He also has pimiento and ricotta cheeses. Another customer drops by to give him praise and some encouraging words.
“It’s the most popular, kasi walang tangang gumagawa ng guyabano juice, ako lang,” Rico jokes. “In terms of quality of fruit, it's so hard to find guyabano fruits that are really perfect--nice-looking on the outside and good and nice-looking as well on the inside; most often, they’re nice-looking on the outside but bad on the inside. Maybe that's why hardly anyone is making the juice or you seldom see it,” he explains, shaking his head as if to wonder why he was doing it at all.
I confess I am no fan of the fruit; but anything that is touted to be cancer-preventive is worth a try (plus I tell myself that Dariel and Dad do like it) so I buy his last bottle. After I drain my glass of the guyabano juice shortly after coming home, I want Rico to know that, notwithstanding the danger to his sanity, God put him on this planet to keep on making this wonderful health drink. I have become a fan--it just had the right amount of sweetness. He says it must be consumed within three days after opening. No worries there because I tell you, you’re going to finish it within 30 minutes after opening the bottle.
One juice that he started producing this summer is his pure cantaloupe juice. Rounding out his drinks is his Green Tea using tea leaves from Taiwan. Other than that, he sources all his ingredients locally, like the sea salt from Zambales. He avails of a natural sweetener, stevia, and does not use preservatives. Rico hopes that the health fruit juice industry will be given proper attention by the government to make them more competitive.
Now on her fourth week in the market, Ella, a BF Homes resident who is originally from Baguio, has partnered with a sister who helps her identify products from the north and sends it over for her buyers here. This mother of two finds the Saturday market a perfect venue for her entrepreneurial spirit. “I just left my job last year and I'm a full-time mom and on the side I'm trying to find things to do,” she tells me in a lilting voice.
Although her products may differ from week to week depending on their availability, she nevertheless has found some staples, like the malunggay- or spinach-enriched pancit canton that have found her steady buyers. On my second visit, she showed me her other products for that day: The fragrant bananas that were the best variety for making banana bread; the “kinuday” or Cordillera bacon; the Ibaloy native red rice; bugnay and coffee wine; native corn; and even dayap “from my mom’s tree.”
At first glance this new vegetable is something of a puzzle; it looks more like a smooth ginger or taro root, and my husband and I were expecting it to be like a potato inside, but cutting it open reveals an inner texture that is not starchy at all. It's more like a turnip (singkamas), sweet and crisp with a hint of something peppery and minty, or a bit like ginger.
The flavor is very refreshing, and we could easily imagine this new vegetable going well with fresh salads, or cut into finger-size bites and served with a dip for appetizer. As a health food, yacon is a must-have item on every diabetic’s table according to some websites. Ella advised me to wash it only once--“It isn’t that sweet so do not wash it again after you peel it or it might dilute the sweetness.”
I have always liked banana chips but Dariel finds that many are cut a bit too thick to be enjoyable, especially as they harden in sugar. The camote chips have a sweet flavor very much like banana chips--camote and saba being practically synonymous to many taste buds--but with the light flaky crispness of Pringles or Lay's chips. They're crunchy and have just the right level of sweetness without going overboard with the sugar, and they’re very addictive!
Another hearty merienda that did not go overboard with the sweetness is Ginny’s ginataang matamis. This Filipino snack is one of my favorite native merienda and I was glad that it did not disappoint. Another of her staple offerings is her tulingan cooked in gata, which I promise myself to get in the future.
Also on my second visit, I saw a new entrant to the market, South Fil-Zeal, headed by young entrepreneur, Maria Lourdes Ceniza. Less than a year old, South Fil-Zeal is a direct importer of New Zealand meat products. Louis has a lot to say about her company's competitive edge: "Our meat products are lean, nutrient-rich, and are healthier as they are grass-fed, not grain-fed (which is what is usually done.) The animals are reared in the fresh, open doors, on their natural diet of abundant grass, making them free of diseases like FMD and harmful residues."
Her company’s bestsellers are the sukiyaki cut, the oxtail, and the ground beef but for today, some cuts were not available. “We didn’t really know which cuts would click; we just listed them down so that next week we could have them available,” she states. Judging from her list, she already has attracted a market in BF Homes on her very first day.
While the BF Weekend Organic Market may not yet match the popularity of its Makati counterparts, there was a steady stream of patrons as the day progressed, enough to bode well for Andrew’s dream of creating a go-to webazaar for the BF Homes community. With a populace as large as BF Homes and its neighbors, there is no reason why it should lack for buyers and sellers alike. Dariel and I only know that we will definitely be back for more.