Meet the Philippines' 'Mango King'
MANILA, Philippines - Does the Philippines' Mango King ever get tired of eating mangoes?
On the latest episode of ANC's "Pipol," Ces Orena-Drilon posed this question to Justin Uy, owner of ProFoods International Corp.
Uy smiled and answered, "honestly, I get tired of eating apples but never get tired of eating a mango a day. Never."
And this passion and love for mangoes, the favorite fruit of most Filipinos, is what earned him the title of Mango King.
But at first, the Mango King didn't quite have the Midas touch to turn his mangoes into gold. And after 3 years of constant failed attempts to break into the market back in the 1980s, this particular venture seemed destined to fail as well.
"If you see the market, all of them had been there two decades ahead of us," he said. "We didn't have the technology and the facility."
Uy said while their competitors already had the machines needed, they were still drying mangoes under the sun and sealing packages with candles.
But despite the setbacks, Uy didn't strike any deal with the gods to magically grant him the power to turn anything into gold. And unlike in most of his ventures, he persevered with mangoes and kept studying on how to improve.
"When I'm studying, I'm partly doing our R&D (research and development) on what we should build in my plant," he said.
"That's the reason why I took up chemical engineering," Uy added.
And this commitment to the business eventually paid dividends for Uy who started ProFoods at the age of 19.
"We made our first shipment of 100 cartons to HongKong after 3 years of failure --'78, '79 and '80. But when we first shipped out our first, I knew we could do it," he recalled.
And they did.
A success story
Today, ProFoods is the largest dried fruit producer in the country and boasts a modern facility that caught the eye of international competitors such as China and Vietnam. Designed to maximize efficiency by Uy himself, the facility produces thousands of tons of processed dried fruit every year and has around 7,000 employees.
"It took me 3 decades to reach this point," he admitted.
"We have tried every year to improve our efficiency and that dictates where we are going....We measure their [employees] peeling, slicing and canning. We measure all their productivity," said Uy.
He also explained that in the food processing business, passion and determination are a must.
"You have to be passionate to work for it. It means when the fruit is there, you have to be there," said Uy.
"I live inside the compound. My room has a local number where all the managers can call me," he added.
But it was Uy's willingness to learn and integrate the things he picked up into ProFoods, born from his days as a student, that really paved the way for his company's success.
"We learned from Del Monte, Nestle and Coca-Cola," he admitted. "We learned from them so that we could create our own quality system."
He also said that after seeing the export industry of Japan back in 1986, he aspired the same, not only for his business, but for the Philippines as well.
"We were 30 years behind. So i was thinking, one day, we have to cope up, we have to be at par with them," said Uy.
And 35 years later, ProFoods' products are in the shelves of Costco, Target and Walmart in the US. Their products are also available in more than 40 countries around the world.
ProFoods, having labeled their products with the country's name (Philippines Brand Dried Mangoes), became one of the best ambassadors for the Philippines abroad.
But ProFoods foray into the international market started with Uy knocking, literally, on the doors of Singapore's retail and manufacturing companies.
"I pulled out the yellow pages in a budget hotel and befriended a taxi driver. And through the yellow pages, I knocked on the door of every company that I could find," said Uy.
According to Uy, the experience was a success because it opened up more doors for them. It convinced them that there was a market for Philippine mangoes.
However, despite ProFood's success today, Uy is far from done.
"We want to be number 1 in the world," he said.
But the Mango King fears that, unless the government springs into action, the market for Philippine mangoes will disappear.
"I fear that we will be outdone by the other countries. One reason is that all the cost has been going up. Everything is increasing --from energy to packaging. One day the buyer is going to say, 'I'll buy from Thailand because it's half the price," Uy warned.
"If they improve their variety and quality then we are gone," he predicted.
But Uy hopes that it doesn't happen yet because he still dreams that other countries will get to taste the sweetest mangoes in the world, which he believes is from the country.
"I want them to know what the Philippine mango is."