Romy Sia: Take charge of your health — and the environment, too!
CONSUMERLINE - Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2015 - 10:00am

He may wear many hats but businessman Romy Sia is, first and foremost, a good, devoted dad who wants only the best for his children. How it broke his heart when, many years ago, he found out that his son Sean, then a toddler, was allergic to corn. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy for him and his wife Janet who now have to gingerly sift through every single label of the products they buy in the supermarket to make sure their precious son does not ingest corn or anything with corn as a hidden ingredient. He wanted to help his son (and parents of children with allergies) by keeping him away from products that could harm his health. He looked around and realized there was hardly any health store in Metro Manila back then. So he put up Healthy Options, which is what its name suggests.

 Fast-forward to 2015: Twenty years later, Romy now runs 25 store branches — and counting — of Healthy Options located nationwide, and it is now the country’s leading all-natural health store. And Sean is now a smart young man in his early 20s.

Yes, everything you see in the supermarket, you will probably find at Healthy Options — only healthier options.  Starting out with healthy snackfoods like chips/dips and popcorn (or the healthy alternatives to our well-loved junk foods) as well as cereals, Healthy Options has grown and grown to include a whole range of products — supplements, personal care products, hair dyes, fresh produce, fresh meats, pastas and pasta sauces, juices, wines, beverages, infant foods and products, cosmetics (organic skincare and vegan and gluten-free Gabriel), and what Romy calls the healthy options for cats and dogs (Bow & Wow).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat healthy, live well

“In the first 10 years of Healthy Options, we were able to create awareness of natural health,” Romy looks back. “We were successful in getting people to be interested in their health, to take charge of their health by eating healthy, living well, being fit. This is all part of taking care of yourself — not just for the sake of vanity, it also makes you feel good. People want to spend time with their children or grandchildren. They don’t want to be weak and old.”

Romy recalls, “If you remember, in the mid-’90s, there was a Wholesome grocery selling healthy foods and veggies, and owned by Grace Eleazar who was a real estate contractor. It was really her passion because she also lived that lifestyle.”

Romy always thought of putting up his own business. “And with a son who’s allergic to corn, destiny took its course. We were successful — one store became two, two became three. On the third store, I was still with ABS-CBN, I had to quit to take care of the business. We now have 25 stores in Metro Manila and the provinces. We just opened at Kidzania in Bonifacio Global City and we’re opening soon at Nuvali in Santa Rosa, Laguna. We also expanded our Megamall branch and we will have a bigger Healthy Options at Rockwell, where we’re now on the third floor.”

The biggest store, so far, is the Glorietta 2, Makati branch, which is more than 500 sq.m. with an ample activity area where customers can enjoy in-store demos, such as cooking, fitness, beauty, makeup, and other HO talks.

Romy Sia owns Healthy Options 50/50 with partner Christian Tan who, he says, lets him run the business. “I said we were just going to carry natural products, we were not going to carry any other products. I just wanted to focus on natural products.”

Natural vs. Organic

How did Romy know which natural products to carry? “In the early years, I didn’t realize there were a lot of Filipinos, who travel to the US, who were already familiar with all these products. They know more than me, and they were the ones telling me to carry this and that. We developed our vendor relationship with US manufacturers. At the time, the range of natural products wasn’t very big so whatever was available, we carried them at our store — I said as long as they’re natural, with no chemical additives, no artificial color and flavoring, no hormones, no antibiotics.”

Healthy Options works with the Costales Nature Farm and two or three more farmers. “We don’t call our chicken organic anymore, we call it natural chicken as it has no hormones, no chemicals, no antibiotics. You need a certified body to say your product is organic, the rules are so stringent that a lot of people can’t go organic. Supermarkets are not prepared to pay the right price for organic produce so farmers are forced to cut corners. At the end of the day, it’s all about money. So I said, ‘Just give us the cleanest, purest food crops, vegetables, chicken, eggs that my customers will pay for.’ Our customers can afford — they just want honest products, they don’t want to pay for organic na di naman pala organic.”

Every year, Healthy Options invites  manufacturers to meet with HO customers who may have questions to ask about their products. “We’re very transparent,” Romy declares.

Going around a Healthy Options store, you’ll find the following thoughtful/thought-provoking store labels: Do You Know What’s In Your Food; Read the Labels; No Chemical Fertilizers, Pesticides & GMO; Sustainably Grown, Ethically Farmed; Our Food Nourishes You; No Growth Hormones, Antibiotics or Preservatives; Wholesome Honest Food.

All the health news that’s fit to print

In 1996, just a year after Healthy Options opened, the Healthy Options lifestyle newsdigest had its maiden issue. It now has a digital edition, but, Romy says, “we still have a lot of regular customers who keep their copies of the HO newsdigest.”

Healthy Options started holding lectures and talks, too. “We know how important it is to educate our customers,” Romy stresses. “If they know, they will appreciate it better. Educated customers are good customers.”

Some hard-to-find health books are also available at Healthy Options. “It’s part of educating our customers,” notes Romy. “If someone or a family member has a particular ailment, like diabetes, lung cancer, breast cancer, they want to know more about the subject to help their loved ones recover. They will try everything that can help so they come to us.”

But I think most people come to Healthy Options to check out the latest in health fads. There was a time when apple cider vinegar — yes, a tried-and-tested recipe for weight loss — was all the rage. “Because vinegar kills your appetite,” Romy explains. “Weight loss is all about eating less and apple cider is an appetite suppressant. But apple production went down in the US because of the big drought, so no apple cider vinegar was being produced.”

Customers were queuing up for their much-needed dose of apple cider vinegar. “There was a cult following for apple cider, but there was a shortage,” says Romy. “However, because of the vendor relationship we have developed with our manufacturers over the last 20 years, we got the remaining stocks which we rationed to our Gold Card holders, our loyal customers.”

Quinoa diet? Weight and see!

Today, people are hoarding quinoa. Quin what, you may ask? “Quinoa (a grain crop with edible seeds) is very, very high in fiber so it’s really good,” Romy tells us. “But it’s a diet staple in South America, not part of an Asian diet.”

More like a vegetable than a grain, quinoa is of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet list if you want to lose weight.

Turmeric is stirring quite a turmoil, too. Simply yellow ginger, it’s touted for assorted health benefits like treating cancer, arthritis, psoriasis, and, not to forget, Alzheimer’s, too.

Just as Romy is meticulous about the products his stores carry, he is also very careful in choosing his staff. “Our frontliners are college grads who are knowledgeable about the products they sell,” he says. “They’re more like health consultants (so go ahead and ask your friendly health consultant about the product/s you’re buying).”

He adds, “I always start with the employees — if they don’t believe in the products they’re selling, I don’t think the products will be successful. I give them an exam every month to test how much they know about our products. If they fail, they lose their monthly allowance. Every month, my employees get P3,000 worth of products on top of their salary. Mostly, they buy supplements, but they also try our new products so they can answer customers’ queries.”

Surely, a healthy working environment thrives at Healthy Options. Romy discloses, “We look after our own people. They have a health insurance. We pay living wage, not just minimum wage. Our managers get to travel as part of their education and professional growth. I believe that if you have happy employees, you have happy customers, too.”

Romy is certainly happy to see people embracing a healthy lifestyle. “In the next 20 years, I want people to care about the health of the environment as much as their own body health.”

The mindless killing of Pamana, a rare Philippine eagle, so outraged Romy that he’s going to Davao to find out more about the Philippine Eagle Foundation. One cruel gunshot wound in her right breast put an end to this majestic bird. “A genuine national treasure we could probably call our own for Philippine eagles are found nowhere else in the world,” Romy laments.

As Healthy Options marks its 20th anniversary on Tuesday, Oct. 27, Romy vows, “I want to get our customers to be aware of nature conservation and to support our local farmers. Otherwise, our kids will have nothing left.”

Romy raises an imaginary toast and says, “Here’s to good health — naturally!”

 

 

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