Oishi goes to Uzbekistan
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2019 - 12:00am

TASHKENT (Updated 8:18 a.m.) – This charming Central Asian country of Soviet-era buildings, blue-tiled madrasas and mosaic-covered mosques is many things to many people – a state that was once under Stalin’s shadows, the heart of the fabled ancient Silk Road and home of the world’s best rice pilaf, cooked in more than a hundred ways. 

It’s an enigmatic republic with a 3,000-year old history and enthralling ancient stories; some of its cities are evocative, mythical, and straight out of the famed Arabian Nights.

For low key taipan Carlos Chan, Uzbekistan is the next frontier for his sprawling global snack foods empire, the Liwayway Group, which is behind the iconic Oishi brand. 

Liwayway is indeed making its foray here, the first Filipino-owned snack foods giant to do so, a move which the Republic of Uzbekistan very much welcomes.

Government officials are excited and the excitement in the air is almost tangible.

Uzbekistan Ambassador to the Philippines Bakhtiyor Saidov says this is indeed a  positive development for both countries as he expressed hopes that more Filipino businesses would expand here too.

“I hope many more Filipinos can invest in Uzbekistan. I hope it will happen,” he says in an interview in Manila before I left for this trip.

The consul general of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Shanghai, Aziz Masutov says now is, indeed a good time to invest in Uzbekistan.

“This is one of the biggest Filipino projects in Uzbekistan, if not the biggest. We have a lot of investments from China – ceramics, textiles and leather, but snack foods, very few,” Masutov says in an interview in Shanghai during a stop over en route to this country.

The policy of the government under the leadership of its president Shavkat Mirziyoyev is to be more friendly to investors to help spur the country’s economic growth, Aziz says. Mirziyoyev was elected president in December 2016.

“It’s a new policy of our new president. Before, the policy was a bit stagnating,” he adds.

For Liwayway’s expansion, Mr. Chan acquired a one hectare property in the Tashkent region where the group intends to build a 6,000-square meter snack foods factory.

The deputy governor of the Tashkent region, Djamshid Abdusalamov, welcomes Liwayway’s entry into their country, particularly in his district.

“When I heard the news about Liwayway’s investment, I was very happy because the Philippines is very far from Uzbekistan, which means that if a Philippine company would come here, it’s unusual and it’s special. Other investors are Chinese and Koreans, but no investors from Philippines yet,” the deputy governor tells me.

Oishi factory

During a visit to the site of Liwayway’s future factory here, Mr. Chan tells me that prospects of the business in this Central Asian country are rosy with the cost of electricity low and the market a huge one with a population of 34 million. 

The indefatigable Mr. Chan, who is in his 70s, is excited. I am in awe of his energy level and entrepreneurial spirit -- such energy and passion could put younger tycoons to shame. With Mr. Chan’s business acumen, I am sure Oishi would also make it big here. 

Targeted for opening next year, the factory here would be Liwayway’s 33rd factory following several others in the Philippines, China and beyond.

The Silk Road

When I asked him why he chose Uzbekistan as his next overseas expansion, Mr. Chan says it’s really very simple -- he is just following the route of the Silk Road, now known as China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

It makes sense, of course, given that China’s Belt and Road expansion program seeks to spur economic activities along the route of what was once the world’s most important trading hub.

Looking forward

Consul General Aziz says the people of Uzbekistan would surely look forward to munching on Oishi products soon.

“The people of Uzbekistan enjoy snacks, including sweets – like chocolates for example,” he says.

It’s a long way from Manila to this Central Asian country. In my case, the trip went from Manila to Shanghai to Urumqi and then finally to Tashkent -- but Filipino businessmen would be happy to know that it’s a trip worth making because the country is very much open for business.

One can take the cue from Mr. Chan. Setting up his group’s operations here, he has been getting all the necessary help and support from the government of Uzbekistan and from the private sector too, such as banks.

When he first set foot on this place last year, he fell in love with the country. He knew that he would expand here and soon decided to look for land for the factory.

The joke among our delegation is that while visitors to a new country would buy the customary ref magnet, Mr. Chan would buy idle land.

Mr. Chan, the low-key tycoon that he is, smiles coyly over the joke. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

(Editor's note: The sentence "For Liwayway’s expansion, Mr. Chan acquired a one hectare property in the Tashkent region where the group intends to build a 6,000-square meter snack foods factory" has been edited. A previous version of this article reported the area of the factory as 600 square meters)

CARLOS CHAN OISHI
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