Sweet aftertaste
- Carla Paras-Sison () - April 14, 2003 - 12:00am
For Basil and Vie Reyes, Bote Central, Inc. is both an environmental advocacy and a business enterprise.

Bote Central is the result of P1 million in capital and seven months of product development to come up with a gourmet vinegar under the Arengga label. The vinegar is made from the arenga pinnata, which is better known as the sugar palm tree or the kaong tree, the fruit of which is a staple in the national summer refreshment called halo-halo.

"Our immediate goal is to make Bote Central a sustainable enterprise," said Basil Reyes.

Traditionally fermented in Vigan-made vitrified earthen jars, known as burnay jars, the company’s vinegar does not contain water. "It is all-natural and pure," he said.

Arengga vinegar comes in two bottle sizes and in three variants. Aside from the classic, Arengga has an herbed or rosemary variant and an institutional variant formulated and packed for hotels and restaurants. Prices range from P65 per 373-milliliter bottle to P95 per 750-ml bottle.

Two percent of the suggested retail price is set aside for environmental expense.
Advocacy
"We support the Arenga pinnata conservation initiative with a non-government organization called Happy Earth that networks with such institution as the National Museum’s Botany Department to help preserve the palm sugar tree," said Vie Reyes.

The trees grow in the wild along riverbanks and ravines and up to 200 meters inland. They are very difficult to farm artificially but are naturally propagated by palm civets indigenous to Asia and known locally as alamid. A threatened species, the palm civet climbs up the tree, eats the kaong fruit, goes down and excretes the seed from which the wilding will grow. Other threatened animals that use the sugar palm tree as habitat are the musang and cloud rates.

Bote Central buys its vinegar sap from sap collectors or mangangarit in Indang, Cavite. "We teach the sap collectors how to properly segregate waste to ensure the rivers are kept clean and the environment remains conducive for kaong trees and alamid to thrive," she said. "Over the long run, we hope that our pilot community in Indang can be replicated in other parts of the country, which still have abundant supplies of sugar palm trees along clean rivers."
Research
In the four months that Arengga vinegar has been in supermarket shelves, Bote Central generated sales of P100,000 a month. Aside from supermarkets, the company uses distributors and dealers to push its product in 30 subdivisions in Metro Manila. Distributors get 10% to 15% off the suggested retail price.

"Right now, it is a highly subsidized operation," said Basil Reyes. To help cover costs, the company uses its existing machines to wash the second-hand bottles of corporate customers.

"We’ve seen how a lot of these used bottles are cleaned manually and this is not environmentally friendly. Most backyard operators just throw the chemicals used for cleaning in the sewer, with no regard to the long-term effects on health and the environment," he said.

In the pipeline are other products made from the palm sugar tree such as arenga pinnata sugar (which is highly prized in the world market and can, therefore, be higher-priced), kaong wine, and a health drink from a mix of the vinegar and pure honey similar to apple cider.

There is also some research on the future of palm sugar fiber called cabo negro, which is used in Europe to sweep streets as it is among the strongest natural fibers in the world. Another product with possibilities is starch.

"If we sell enough products made from the arenga pinnata, we will be able to conserve the trees and increase their numbers, save the lives of animals that propagate them, sustain rivers and ravines which are the natural habitat for the trees, and educate farming communities on environmental protection as well as improve their economic well-being," he said.

In short, Bote Central is focused on becoming a viable enterprise for environmental advocacy.

ARENGGA BASIL REYES BOTANY DEPARTMENT BOTE CENTRAL FOR BASIL AND VIE REYES HAPPY EARTH INDANG METRO MANILA NATIONAL MUSEUM PALM
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