Big things in a sachet: Family meals for P22.50 | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

MANILA, Philippines—Big things come in small packages—as small as quick-food compact sachets that can feed a family for P22.50.


At a time when the sachet mentality has become key in the survival of Filipino families living in poverty, an emerging social enterprise has come up with a new line of packet-size food products that are both cheap and nutritious.


The Villa Socorro Farm, a 4-year-old family-run social enterprise based in Pagsanjan, Laguna, was first made famous by its banana chips, now being sold overseas. Recently, it released champorado and arroz caldo in all-in-one packs with rice and flavoring that promise to satisfy a family of five. Just bring the contents to a boil and there goes a family’s full meal for P22.50.


Marcial Aaron, a former executive in a multinational company who took to farming and social enterprise when he opted for early retirement in 2004, created the instant meals as part of his family’s advocacy to provide affordable yet nutritious food alternatives to cash-strapped families.


“It’s providing cheaper food alternatives not only to poor Filipinos but also to the food-poor Filipinos,” Aaron told the Inquirer in his Magallanes Village home in Makati City, which also houses his firm’s office and warehouse.


The 62-year-old Aaron called the project “Feeding Totoy,” which he so named to emphasize proper nutrition for the young.


“It’s the umbrella theme for this project because the intention here is to provide the right food for Totoy… Our target is food-poor Filipinos, especially the children. And of course, when you say ‘Totoy,’ there’s that emotional touch,” Aaron said.


“I’m sure you’ve heard that there are a lot of malnourished Filipino children. Actually, the issue is not that they’re not eating the right food. It’s that they just have no food to eat at all. How can you even choose the food you need when you don’t have any food to eat?” Aaron said.


 ‘Let’s All Rice’


Aaron’s “Let’s All Rice” food line is a culmination of an idea he had hatched back when he headed his firm’s food subsidiary.


“My model is that there are about 5 million Filipino families who are food-poor… That’s why I came out with this set. Champorado (sweet chocolate rice porridge) Kumpleto has rice, tablea and sugar. The same with arroz caldo (congee),” he said.


A nutrition report by the Social Weather Stations released in September said some 4.3 million Filipino families “experienced hunger or having had nothing to eat” in the three months prior to the time of the survey.


Faced with such statistics, Aaron hopes his food line will become an alternative to the usual recourse of families who have too little to buy proper meals: Rice with instant noodles, rice with salt, rice with sugar or rice with coffee.


“These families don’t buy coffee or sugar for the week; what they can afford is what they need only for the day. That’s their lifestyle. If you ask if that’s what they really want? No. It’s what they can afford,” said Aaron.


Drawing from the popular tingi (retail) idea, the Let’s All Rice Champorado and Arroz Caldo bring together all ingredients in one pack—85 grams of rice with tablea and sugar for the chocolate rice porridge, or with ginger and pandan flavoring for the arroz caldo.


Aaron’s company sources the tablea from the Cavite-based cooperative and uses ginger and pandan harvested from his Pagsanjan farm, an 11-hectare property he acquired in 1997 where he built his retirement home, a reservation-only resort and manufacturing plant.


Apart from the two instant meal variants, the farm, named after Aaron’s Pagsanjan-born wife, is also set to produce new soup and rice varieties playfully called Souprice.


Aaron, a chemical engineer, is currently developing instant rice with sinigang (vinegar stew) and bulalo  (beef shank soup) variants. These instant meals are scheduled for market release at a price of P17.50.


Social relevance


“To us, this is our project with social relevance and we feel that we can be a party to nation-building, so to speak. We are not a philanthropic organization so we need to generate funds as well so we can plow back [to the business] to make it sustainable,” Aaron said.


To reach his target market, Aaron introduced his Let’s All Rice line in sari-sari stores and public markets.


Such strategy is similar to the supply chain he and his son Raymund, a 2009 entrepreneurial management graduate from Ateneo de Manila University, has drawn up to market their “sabanana chips” products.


The younger Aaron took the lead at the banana chips business shortly after it started in 2008.


“That was the time when there was a boom in social enterprises. So it was a very new and very interesting field that was emerging,” said Raymund.


The banana crisps, made with produce from local farmers then cooked and packed by local workers in Laguna, are distributed to school canteens, offices and restaurants instead of supermarkets, where Aaron says the product would contend with wholesale haggle.


“It’s a very different business model in the sense that we have a different back end on how we produce, and we also have a different front end on how we distribute,” said the younger Aaron.


The Laguna banana chip plant produces 8,000 packs of banana chips a day, consuming the same amount (8,000 pieces) of bananas from farmers in Pagsanjan and nearby towns of Magdalena and Cavinti, Aaron said.


“It’s very profitable how it was set up. But when you say profitable, it’s not the way the multinationals look at how profitable business should be,” said Aaron.


“I think, more than anything else, the most fulfilling part of our job now is the social entrepreneurship, providing sustainable livelihood for the people,” he added.


Apart from these for-profit ventures, the Aaron family is giving back to the local community through a weekly feeding program they recently started at a school near their farm in Barangay Dingin, Pagsanjan town.


The program provides arroz caldo and champorado to some 50 children from kindergarten to second grade right after Mass and catechism on Saturdays.