zaragoza foodsJun and Marites Uy’s first business venture was buying and selling copra, but they eventually closed shop in 1993 because their dealers had accumulated too many debts. That same year, they decided to go into another kind of business. “Mahilig kasi si Jun sa Spanish-style sardines,” Marites explains. And since she has a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition, Jun told me to make something similar, or if possible, something even better,” she adds.

So for the next months, Marites bought all the brands of bottled sardines she could find to study. Jun tasted all of them, telling her which ones he liked and what recipes needed tweaking. The task was made more difficult because Marites had to learn the processing technology on her own. “Trial and error ginawa ko,” she says. While she was able to pick up tips from the Rural Improvement Club of the Department of Agriculture in Cebu, it took her almost a year before she came up with a product that met the approval of her husband’s discriminating taste buds. They named their business Zaragoza – after the well-known city in Spain – for easy recall.

Family Enterprise
Aside from coming up with the perfect recipe, Marites also sourced the ingredients herself. She would wake up at 4 a.m to go to the wharf and buy herring sardines directly from the fishermen. The kitchen in the Uy home became Zaragoza Food’s first production area, with Marites doing most of the cooking and processing. Eventually, her two household helpers and the rest of her children pitched in with production. Jun closed deals with outlet stores in Cebu and Dipolog and took charge of designing the label.

To save on costs, the Uy children – who were then just in their teens – took public transportation when making deliveries. For those that needed to be shipped, Marites would haul them to the pier using the family car, unloading and carrying them herself to save on porter’s fee.

Masigasig Sa Marketing
The company initially produced 240 bottles of sardines, and Marites admits that they hardly made profit that time. “Parang lugi pa yata kami,” she says. It was difficult to convince supermarkets, especially the big ones, to carry their products. “One institutional buyer even said, “We will call you without asking for our contact number,” says Marites. But armed with sheer determination, Jun and Marites persisted, joining trade fairs where they met more dealers and buyers. Slowly, business picked up and by 1996, they were able to transfer operations from their family kitchen to a 670-square-meter compound in Dipolog City. In 1998, they partnered with a Manila-based trading firm that took care of distributing the bottled sardines in supermarkets all over Luzon and Metro Manila, such as Unimart, Cash and Carry, and all branches of S n’ R Price Club, SM, Robinsons, Landmark and Waltermart. Today, Zaragoza sardines can also be found in Filipino stores, oriental stores, and mainstream supermarkets in the United States, Canada, Singapore, and Australia.

Marites attributes their success to aggressive marketing.Naghahanap kami continuously ng bagong buyers. Yung ibang manufacturers, merong distributors, pero wala sila sales agent. Kami lang [ang meron].” In 1999, they hired a sales agent to handle Visayas and Mindanao. He turned out to be a gem, scoring outlets in Palawan, Boracay, Cotabato and General Santos. In 2002, they hired two more sales agents, making their current sales force for Visayas and Mindanao a “lean but mean” three.

Product development is also a priority. From the start, Marites and Jun believed in being sensitive to the market’s needs. For example, to cater to children’s delicate taste buds, they cam up with the Mild Hot in Corn Oil variant. From then on, they just keep adding to the list – they now have over over 33 bottled fish variants, including Portuguese Sardines, Ginisang Bagoong, Natural Bagoong, Salted Fish, Bangus, Tuyo plus Achara.

Their workforce has ballooned to 119 and production is at 500 boxes a day. Last year, the company’s gross sales totaled over P40 Million.

Making The Most of Technology
To keep up with their booming business, Marites and Jun are learning to use technology and the Internet. For instance, Zaragoza Foods subscribes to an e-commerce site, wherein clients can place orders via the Internet. They also plan to put up a website soon. But already, the company receives individual orders and inquiries from other countries via e-mail, thanks to their listing in the website of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, of which they are a member.

Zaragoza Foods is still considered a newcomer in the bottled fish industry in Dipolog. Still it has come a long way from the Uy household kitchen. Today, when the fresh catch come at dawn, the fishermen text Marites to come and get them. But instead of going to the wharf herself, Marites now sends her workers to pick up the fish.

Contact Details:
Zaragoza Foods Corporation
Lubing Oguis, Galas, Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte
e-mail: zaragozafoods@yahoo.com

Source: Masigasig magazine Vol 2 Issue 10 October 2008

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