Couple successfully builds vegan brand

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Six years ago, couple Carmela Cancio and Ralph Go decided to go meat-free and strive hard to sustain a vege-tarian diet, not just to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle, but to start a bigger cause of educating their families and hopefully, a bigger chunk of the Filipino population.

Two years later, in 2013, the couple decided to put up Superfood Grocer--their very own business venture that adds nutrient-rich, plant-based, whole foods to the daily diet.

“We wanted to share the benefit of the vegan diet to our friends and family. A lot of people approached us specially those who have certain lifestyle diseases. Then, we wanted to spread it to everybody, so we started Superfood Grocer,” Ralph said.

Carmela studied the Philippine culture when it comes to daily meals--most often than not composing of white rice and animal-based dish, while vegetable is just a mere option on the side.

“I helped my mom, who has diabetes, and changed her food at home. Within a month, she lost 15 pounds, her energy was up and even started her three-kilometer race. Then people started asking, that’s why we decided to start the Superfood Grocer,” Carmela shared.

The couple just started sharing with friends and families about a green smoothie, composed of blended fruits and vegetables. Then they gave them options to add certain super foods.

So-called super foods are mostly plant-based produce which have certain additional benefits when added to a person’s daily dietary nutrition.

Among these are quinoa, spirulina, flax seeds, camu camu, chia, maca, cacao nibs, and malunggay, all of which have been included in the Superfoods’ line-up.

“We learned separately that the more we research, the more we learn that there is something that we can do, that you can actively do something about your lifestyle. Genes is just one percent, 99 percent is your choice of lifestyle,” Carmela said.

While going vegan is not a walk in the park for some, Carmela said choosing to go meat-free is always a matter of choice and is actually not that difficult compared to what others project it to be.

“You should know that you have a power of choice because when you feel you are deprived, all the more you feel that you are against your will power. But if you know that you can eat anything you want but you choose not to, then it gives you the freedom to feel more empowered,” Carmela said.

While there are others who are already in the same or similar line of business, Carmela emphasized that what they do is more on a personal level, as they take time in educating their customers.

“We promote 100 percent green diet, most of them they just promote their product. The awareness in food and how it affects your heath is a little bit higher right now. Before, you just avoid fat and meat, now it’s more like eat this certain food and it will give you benefits,” Ralph said.

“We have to live it. If you’re doing it just for the business, opportunities and profit, then it’s not a smart choice. We had to pour in a lot of our time and energy to educate our customers,” Carmela added.

Aside from encouraging people to go into the vegan diet, Carmela and Ralph are helping the local agriculture sector by buying from several smallholder farmers particularly in the province of Quezon, where most of their produce come from.

“What we wanted to do is to use whatever position we are in right now to help and break their stories and products. Some people do not really value the local products as much as they do with imported ones. But we wanted to help our local farmers so we included it in our packs,” Carmela said.

Apart from growing their online platform, Carmela and Ralph have already entered the supermarket scene late last year with their products now available in select Rustan’s, Robinson’s, Puregold, Landmark and Merkado supermarkets.

“We started very slowly, because when you enter the supermarket, you don’t know the demand and you don’t know how much stocks to put. We were just testing,” Carmela said.

“Supermarkets reach a wider audience. However, they have their own trade margins. In terms of  profit,  selling online is still more profitable,” she added.

While having their own vegan cafe and restaurant is part of their game plan,  Carmela and Ralph don’t want to rush it as this new endeavour requires more capital, additional manpower and equipment.

“We did start our initial plans in 2015 and we were supposed to put up a cafe, but then when we studied the business model of the cafe, it didn’t make much sense at that time compared to entering the supermarkets,” Carmela said.

“The cafe really has to happen eventually. We are going to do it since we already have a manufacturing plant and commissary. We have zero debt and everything is organically grown,” Ralph said.

“A lot of people are into quick trends, and we don’t want to be just a trend. We want to serve a genuine need, we really have to dig deep and find what kind of market and what kind of food to serve. We want to be an everyday place, not just on weekends,” Carmela said.

While Carmela is mostly in charge of the marketing aspect and Ralph manages operations and finances, the couple admitted that everything wasn’t always smooth sailing as they also  had  a share of misunderstandings.

“It’s good that we both have different personalities in the business. He’s very conservative and I’m  very aggressive and that’s good because we get to really see the whole picture,” Carmela shared.

In just four years, Superfood Grocer has grown significantly that it now employs about 30 people. 

Looking forward to the years to come, the couple wants to further expand its superfoods line, produce more ready-to-eat vegan food products,  to be available in more supermarkets and to tap markets overseas.

“We want to have an export business as well and represent the Philippines for excellent plant-based products because we really have amazing produce in our country. We just have to bring it out there,” Carmela said.

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