By Magnolia Silvestre
THE quintessential Pinoy meal will never be complete without the requisite sawsawan. This ritualistic practice of blending various condiments in a platito, perfectly customized to one’s palate, is so common we hardly give it a second thought. Whether you’re at home, at a carinderia, in a restaurant, unpacking your lunch at work, this, after grace, almost always precedes the meal, and not until then can the meal begin.
For the past 40 years the people behind Mother’s Best have made it their business to bottle your sawsawan needs. The Mother’s Best Hot Sauce remains its most iconic and enduring product, but the next generation of Reyes brothers (Gabby, Jomar, Patrick and Benedict) is tasked to usher the Mother’s Best brand in the millennial age, and they know that they cannot rest on their laurels, or in this case, their labuyo, no matter how dominant their presence in that arena is. The way to continue to remain relevant in terms of brand awareness is to continue to innovate and expand.
“We’re looking at down-line marketing. Everyone’s focus is on the supermarket, and we’re dealing with multinationals in that arena, and it’s very competitive,” says Gabriel “Gabby” A. Reyes, assistant general manager. Gabby is well versed in supermarket spreadsheets, having worked for a supermarket chain before he started to work for the family business. His take is that companies will do well to recognize that the supermarket isn’t the only arena. You have the palengke and the food-service industry, generally untapped for even an experienced player like Mother’s Best, but they’re starting to hone in. ot SauGabby explains that in supermarkets a lot of the market is resellers. Mother’s Best is currently catering to the end consumer, but another market is the reseller, a much bigger market. “You have to cater to both if you want to maximize your exposure.”
The company is still shoring up its products to be able to compete in this market, and a big factor is packaging like sachets for tingi selling, “This is a regular retail trend in the Philippines as we know,” Gabby says.
Mother’s Best is playing to its strong points when introducing new products by staying in the kitchen, so to speak. While it is best known for its condiments, it has begun distribution on its raisin and pickle lines. “The market for condiments is saturated, so why not jump to other categories?” Gabby says matter-of-factly. “We have raisins for baking needs and pickles for garnish. Kung may mantika ka, tapos meron kang beans and spaghetti sauce, one-stop shop ka na. Mother’s Best na ’yung pipiliin mo na brand. So we’re developing lines to complete the needs of the kitchen at home.”
Food service is also a growing market Mother’s Best is poised to bite a big chunk into. And while it lords it over the hot-sauce market, it’s still a product they can tweak to serve a certain sector of the clientele. Hint: Brand perception is a key area in the dining experience.
“Pag Class A-B restaurants, they usually want high end, like Tabasco or other imported brands. We see that as a challenge,” Gabby counters. “In terms of packaging, gusto nila mas premium packaging, more imported ’yung dating. We work with R&D [Research and Development] to develop products. When you package your product na mukhang imported, kukunin yun.”
Mother’s Best is coming up with another brand to cater to this higher-end market. “You can’t have one product (that) caters to all markets. While our hot sauce is No. 1 in terms of the entire hot-sauce category, there’s a Class-A category that we can still serve,” Gabby explains. He is confident that the superior quality of their product will speak for itself, and it is merely brand perception that they need to change. “If you look at this other brand, nag-iiba ’yung color pag nagtagal. In terms of experience and developing products, we have the advantage.”
Food service and exports
The main challenge in the food-service industry is personalization, because more and more companies want their own personalized sauces, which is something Mother’s Best is becoming a fast expert on. “We’re more flexible, not like other multinationals,” says Jose Mari “Jomar” A. Reyes, VP/operations director. “We’re easier to communicate with.” The inquiries for personalized formulations are quite numerous that they intend to shore up their R&D to cope with demand.
And because they deal with Filipino condiments, one of the most important markets for Mother’s Best is abroad. Innocencio Concepcion, general manager, says that products Mother’s Best pioneered and developed solely for the market abroad continue to be best sellers. “Mother’s Best Toyomansi and Patismansi were first introduced outside this country.
Nagkaroon ng demand for our products in America kase ayaw nila ng lemon.” When Mother’s Best exhibited at the International Food Expo this year, they received the most number of inquiries for their calamansi extract, to be used for cooking, juices and, naturally, to create their own toyomansi.
“We get a lot of feedback from our customers abroad, so we know which are the fast-moving products,” says Patrick Reyes, VP for International Sales. The banana ketchup is one of these, a stalwart of a Filipino condiment that is a best seller in the international market. Patrick shares an interesting tidbit that banana ketchup as we know it cannot be sold as “ketchup” abroad because that label is reserved for tomatoes. Nonetheless, they are proud to say they are perhaps the only company left that uses real bananas in their banana “ketchup.” The others use banana powder, a more stable product that has a more uniform taste, but doesn’t quite offer the same mouth feel and richness as real bananas.
There’s a lot on their plate, and as these brothers have shown, there’s still a lot of potential for growth and development for a company such as Mother’s Best that has been around a long time. In the business of food and condiments, you just have to know when to add the right amount of spice.
Image Credits: Arnold Camacho