July 05, 2007

Mama Sita’s marinades tickle American taste buds

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
BusinessMirror, July 4, 2007

WEEKEND barbecues are regular events in most American households. Who would’ve guessed that the marinade a number of them like using is a packaged mix made in the Philippines?

Officials of Pasig City-based Marigold Commodities Corp. and Guam importer Pacific Rim Brokers Inc. (PRB) confirmed the rising use by foreign consumers—particularly American/Guam households—of Mama Sita’s marinades, mixes and sauces in their cooking.

Marigold is the manufacturer of Mama Sita’s products and is owned by the Reyes family, well-known restaurateurs and food experts in the Philippines. Marigold’s founder, the late Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes, was the eldest daughter of Doña Engracia “Aling Asiang” Reyes, who put up the Aristocrat Restaurant, a historical landmark among Philippine restaurants. Aling Asiang has been fondly called the “grand matriarch” of local restaurateurs, and now most of her heirs are also in the restaurant and food industry.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessMirror, export manager Jane Rubinos-Taguinod projected an overall sales growth of 30 percent in Marigold’s export market, as well as 30 percent for the United States market alone. The most popular Mama Sita’s products in the US are the barbecue marinade, kare-kare (peanut sauce) mix, kaldereta (Spanish meat stew) mix, sinigang mix (tamarind soup base or guava soup base for meats and fish)… “almost all of the products are popular on the mainland,” she noted. These products are sold mainly in Oriental or Filipino stores.

About 70 percent of Marigold’s profits are generated by the export market, “especially where there are large concentrations of Filpinos,” said Mama Sita’s son, Ramon R. Reyes, corporate services officer of Marigold. Of the company’s foreign sales, the United States (including Canada, Guam and other territories) accounts for 40 percent, followed by the Middle East (30 percent), Europe (20 percent), and the rest in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. “The Middle East market is our fastest-growing market, with other foreign workers, such as Bangladeshis, also buying our products,” he said.

Reyes sees even stronger sales this year for the Guam market, where a third of the local population traces its ancestry to the Philippines. He said the introduction of the company’s newest product, ready-to-cook frozen Filipino meat dishes under the Lola Sita’s brand, will help push their island sales, which is forecast to rise by 30 percent this year.

Marigold produces 17 Mama Sita’s mixes and 21 sauces are made from natural ingredients, like real tamarind or fresh guava for its sinigang mix, instead of citric acid used by some of the company’s competitors. Its sister company, Sandpiper Spices and Condiments Corp., also produces Kim’s, an oriental line of five mixes and four sauces, for Merit Based Trading Ltd., a Hong Kong investment and trading company. Kim’s is sold in the US, Guam, the Middle East and the Philippines. Marigold’s US subsidiary, meanwhile, produces the Lola Sita’s brand, mainly for the US market.

In a separate interview via e-mail, Frank Arriola, executive vice president and general manager of PRB, a Guam importer, said since the official introduction of Mama Sita’s products to the island in December 2006, “There has been an increase in sales in the area of about 125 percent.”

While Mama Sita’s products have been in the Guam market for about 10 years already, most of these were exported by Marigold through various consolidators. This is perhaps the reason, said Reyes, why it was easier this time around for the products to cross over into the mainstream Chamorro market, with PRB now officially importing the products.

“Our most popular products in Guam are the barbecue marinades, sinigang broth and hot pepper sauce [siling labuyo or bird’s eye pepper],” Reyes said. Guam also buys a lot of premium coconut nectar vinegar, “as it has no preservatives, nor is it diluted in water.”

According to Arriola, the mixes retail on Guam for about $0.79; while the bottled vinegar, marinades, and “everything in between” sell between $1.29 and $3.79. These are sold in American Grocery and Payless Supermarkets. Aside from retail consumers, Mama Sita’s products are also bought by institutional buyers like Pacific Islands Club (PIC) Hotel, airline catering company LSG Skychefs, and KFC restaurants. Arriola disclosed that, “we [PRB] are working on a subdistributor appointment for the Northern Marianas,” but declined to reveal the identity of the company pending the “confidential” negotiations.

Other than Mama Sita’s mixes, sauces, marinades, and bottled condiments, also sold on Guam are Kim’s oriental mixes and sauces, and soon, Lola Sita’s frozen traditional Filipino meat dishes like beef tapa (dried cured beef), pork or chicken tocino (meat in a sweet annatto marinade), pork longganisa (sausage), and desserts like sans rival (merengue torte with buttercream filling), as well as Philippine dried fruits.

The Lola Sita’s line was created by Marigold’s US subsidiary, Haig and Lee Import-Export Co. based in Missouri City, in partnership with the Houston-based Ditta Meats. The partnership was launched in 2004 with the establishment of a meat processing plant, also in Texas.

Institutional buyers such as hoteliers, restaurateurs and catering companies on Guam had a taste of the Lola Sita’s line in May 2006, with a cook-out hosted by Jamaican Grill, a popular restaurant on the island. A trial shipment is expected to arrive sometime this month on Guam, said Rubinos-Taguinod. “When we launched it [Lola Sita}, we invited cooks and hotel chefs, restaurant owners. We cooked the products at Jamaican Grill and they liked it. The products were really liked by the restaurant owners.”

Lola Sita’s products are made from Houston Texas, US-grade meat, and only from natural ingredients, without any preservatives. To give the tocino’s reddish color, for example, annatto is used instead of salitre (saltpeter), basically the chemical potassium nitrate used as preservative for most Filipino tocino products. Lola Sita’s meats are packed frozen and weigh one kilo. So far, this product line is doing very well in the US, Rubinos-Taguinod said, with the company planning to get a halal certificate to enable it to sell the meats in the Middle East as well.

While Arriola declined to project PRB sales figures for the Mama Sita’s/Kim’s brands this year, he said: “We firmly believe that the Mama Sita’s/Kim’s lines have crossed over to the Guam mainstream market already. This is based on quantitative sales figures as well as qualitative exit interviews we conduct during our many samplings. We have been very aggressive in our samplings as we hit all the major supermarkets and second-tier stores during the months of December 2006 all the way to March 2007.”

He added that PRB “will be launching a new Mama Sita’s Red Hot Pepper Sauce with Labuyo (bird’s eye pepper) as well as a new dried fruit line which looks very promising.”

In the US, Marigold’s sales are still dominated by the Mama’s Sita’s line at 80 percent, with 10 percent each going to Lola Sita’s and Kim’s, “because the latter are still new,” Rubinos-Taguinod explained.

But she added that, “Guam is picking up. We’re happy it’s [sales] growing because we have a supportive importer… While we’ve been exporting to Guam for 10 years already, it’s only now that the market has really been developed because of the focus given by PRB.”

She confirmed the dramatic increase in demand for Mama Sita’s products in Guam, adding that since December, Marigold has been shipping out at least a container a month as compared to “less than a container” every quarter just a few years ago.

For his part, Reyes said there are still many untapped overseas markets for Marigold’s different product lines, and is hopeful that the company can soon export to China. It is currently “test-marketing” its products in Africa, where a number of Filipinos also work.

Marigold, which began in 1980 as a cottage industry making Mama Sita’s products at the Reyeses’ ancestral home in the Metro Manila suburb of San Juan, now produces its lines at a state-of-the-art facility in Pasig City. The factory produces about 60,000 cases of Mama Sita’s and Kim’s products every month for the Philippines and world market, where one case is equivalent to 72 pieces pouches or 12 bottles of condiments/marinades/sauces. Marigold has a total of 200 employees. Officials declined to reveal actual sales figures.

(Photos from Mama Sita's web site.)

No comments: