Bringing pesticide-free produce from farms to stores

After opening up the market for supplements, Healthy Options is now sourcing and selling organic vegetables and meat as an ‘advocacy’


HEALTHY Options manager Lorraine Mallari andmodel Sam Ajdani during the launch of the organic line. Corn is the best sellers.

The son’s adverse reaction to food and the doctor’s advice against foods with artificial ingredients drove the father to a journey towards better health.

When Romeo Sia went to the supermarkets, he was appalled that most food labels indicated synthetic ingredients—from pesticides to fertilizers and preservatives.

Sia then went to the US to search for alternatives and was surprised to find that the whole foods industry was a fast-growing sector. He then came home to open the first Healthy Options store at Shangri-La Plaza Mall, a grocery which offered nutritional supplements, natural dry goods and grooming products using natural ingredients.

“It was just a sideline. There was no grand vision of building a chain,” says Sia who was finance director at ABS-CBN.

By 1997, he quit his job with the media organization to go full time as Healthy Options’ managing director. Today, Healthy Options has 18 stores and will open three more this year. It was the first to offer vegetarian capsules, chia seeds as rich source of Omega 6, and glutathione as a super antioxidant.

His former boss, Gina Lopez, a loyal patron, suggested Healthy Options offer a line of local ingredients.

Living in Laguna, Sia observed that when he commuted to the city, he would see pigs squealing in jeepneys as they were brought to the slaughterhouse. He recalled reading a book, “The Righteous Porkchop,” which revealed the alarming practices of the animal industry and provided a guide to unhealthy meats.

“KNOW how food comes from farm to packaging,” says Sia. PHOTOS BY NELSON MATAWARAN


Inspired by his meeting with the author and animal rights activist Nicolette Hahn Niman, he decided to introduce an organic line in Healthy Options as an advocacy. He says organic farmers respect the animals, workers and the environment while industrial farmers are just concerned with sales volume.

He discovered the Costales Nature Farm in Majayjay, Laguna, which has a certification from the Negros Island Certification Services, an organization that accredits farms adhering to organic agriculture laws.

The owners, Ronald and Josie Costales, raised vegetables and eggs. Sia then went into a joint venture with Costales Nature Farm in developing the livestock and poultry.

“We don’t put the livestock in battery cages. They roam freely and are pasture raised. The chickens are brought to a triple-A slaughter house. The pigs are slaughtered in Quezon. We blast freeze them to retain the flavor, and they are packed according to our standards,” says Lorraine Jane Mallari, Healthy Options manager for farm operations.

“The beddings in the pigpen are used as fertilizers for vegetables. In other farms, the eggplant is dipped in pesticides. At Costales, the eggplant is placed under a net for protection.”

Last September, Healthy Options launched its organic line of products from Costales Nature Farm in the Shangri-La, Greenbelt and Rockwell stores.

Although the leafy vegetables, corn, sweet potatoes and organic eggs have been moving, Sia says consumers still have to be educated on organic foods. “Know how food comes from farm to packaging. Packaged foods are heavily processed to ensure uniformity of standards. There are chemicals and additives so they don’t spoil easily.”

Sometimes people don’t see the connection, for example, between autism and attention deficit disorder and the foods ingested. Expectant mothers are unaware that their meats are genetically modified, says Sia.

ROMY Sia espouses the importance of agriculture.

More than just promoting foods free of pesticides and hormones, Sia wants to encourage transparency.

Animal welfare issue

“I went into selling organic products because of the animal welfare issue. Anybody can say their product is organic. But you can’t tell the taste unless you’re used to eating organic foods. I can’t stand seeing chicken in battery houses. Our pigs live in big pens with beddings,” says Sia.

Yet, people are not willing to pay for a few extra pesos on organic food. Sia explains the economics. For instance, it takes 90 days and several sacks of grain to raise a chicken. To reduce costs and to meet the rising demand, commercial growers inject growth hormones so that chickens grow in one month. This not only lessens the cost of feeding but also increases the supply.

“We want fast or convenient food. We don’t want to wait. This is why farmers do shortcuts. We want food cheap,” he says.

Although many Filipino farmers have been adapting to organic agriculture, they say it’s not viable because of the lack of demand and distribution. For his part, Sia told the Costaleses that he could carry the products in the 18 Healthy Options stores.

“We pay more for people in call centers than the people in farms. Those in farms leave agriculture for the city. The farmlands become subdivisions. The Philippines is now importing rice from Thailand and Vietnam. I want to encourage people to revert to agriculture.”

In  his office, Sia insists his colleagues to walk the talk. They are discouraged from eating fastfood. A kitchen was built where  employees can prepare food using organic ingredients. “It’s a team-building effort and we’ve been excited about it,” says Mallari.

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  • kismaytami

    “There are chemicals and additives so they don’t spoil easily.” Red flag here.

  • JJ Reyes

    For organic agriculture to succeeed in the Philippines requires an understanding of what consumers want; what they are willing to pay; and how to get them to consider organic.

    There are three markets namely: vegans, vegetarians and organic food consumers. The more desired produce are fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Organic poultry and meat products appeal to a more limited group. The production costs are high, requiring producers to charge consumers 50% or more. Start with organic fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Limit the premium to 10% to 15%. Consumers will gradually start seeking organic products. 10% to 15% more is a reasonable amount to pay for a superior product. Introduction of poultry and meat comes later.

  • LoganRunner

    There is no genetically modified meat in the market. 

  • WeAry_Bat

    Fantastic, this is one of the thoughts I have on more ‘natural’ food.

    For better tasting meat, the animal must range freely, grown and fed naturally.  I once bought such chicken.  It tasted well.  Then I got to eat factory chicken the next day, and it tasted flat.

    Anyone gone to a local chicken & pig breeder would see them fed all sorts of chemicals and supplemented-food.

    It is hard to avoid synthetics in packaged food.  I even wonder what science they used for adding this and that chemical.  Is salt or sugar not enough, nor natural food coloring that they have to splash red color on meat.

    I hope to see more demand on organics and naturally-raised meat, so that price will go down.

  • Dy Pailad

    Farming without pesticides is good for both the consumers and the environment but such farming technique will yield less compared to pesticide and commercial fertilizer-based farming. I wonder if antiRH people who are organic farming advocates at the same time realize that the environment’s carrying capacity is much lower if all production are done organically  The country cannot afford to shift to organic farming because of its huge population. 

  • noynoyingalways

    OVERPRICED Products considering healthy options is just a local brand… same with the imported products that they carry…

  • Night

    what a load of BS

  • farmerpo

     Organic farming is wasteful and cannot address the mass demand for food. It is basically a specialty option for the ‘can affords’.  Without pesticide and fertilizers, we will still be foraging for our daily grains and hunting for our meat, once in a great while. Meanwhile children in general will be afflicted with a far worst disease than ADD or autism. The disease is called malnutrition and the most affected organ is the brain.   

    • JJ Reyes

      Not true for the Philippines. Single crop, large, highly mechanized farming in the West do produce a much higher yield per acre. The problem is farm operations has gotten so expensive that small farmers cannot compete with agriculture corporations. Those John Deere & International Harvester equipment could cost $250,000 and higher. Most Philippine farms are three hectares or less. Natural farming produces multiple crops at a lower production cost. Done correctly, you avoid using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The run-off goes into the water supply.

    • SolitaJ

      JJ Reyes is right! I wonder why farmerpro said organic farming is wasteful! Labor intensive at first, but never wasteful! In fact, you optimize use of resources and you let nature recover to be sustainable in the long haul! Farmerpro, you should try it yourself!

  • rosenda

    Sa aking maliit na  bayan, may organic pork, organic chicken, organic rice and organic vegies. Less cost of production and less cholesterol. Price? very affordable, P140 non organic chicken versus P150 organic chicken. The production is done in my hometown. In my province, marami na ring into organic farming.

  • rosenda

    Ang pagkakaalam ko halimbawa kapag nag alaga ka ng baboy, yung feeds na mabibili mo sa market mahal din. Bibili ka rin ng gamot, antibiotics etc. Kapag mag aalaga ka ng baboy at ang feeds ay bibilhin mo lugi ka. Kapag organic naman, mga gulay ang ipapakain mo sa baboy eh kung sa probinsya mura lang ang gulay at pwede ka magtanin sa lote mo. Kailangan lang ng proper ventilation, malinis dapat ang babuyan kasi walang mga antibiotics o gamot na ipapainom sa baboy kaya pwede kaagad silang dapuan ng sakit. Matrabaho lang nga talaga kapag organic.

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