Arnel “Jojo” Raakin is a third generation descendant of Abondia del Puerto Raakin, or Lola Abon, who made durian sweets a must-have pasalubong item for every visitor to the city, as well as a well-loved everyday item for the locals.
It was back in the early 1950’s that Lola Abon started making pastillas. Soon after, a customer suggested that she try making durian pastillas, which proved to be a hit in the community. This started her durian candy business, which later carried her name, becoming known as Lola Abon’s. The business flourished, and it was in the second generation of Raakins, her children, that the brand later became a catchword for all things durian – be it durian bars, durian sticks, durian candies, or durian jams. The products soon found their way into stores, malls, and bus terminals, making it a leading presence in the city’s fruit processing industry. This continued for years after,even after the untimely demise of the family matriarch.
Now however, an innovation on the much-loved durian sweets has arrived, thanks to Jojo who has seen it fit to infuse his love of cooking with the passion and drive that must have similarly fueled his grandmother to establish the family business years ago, this time, in the well-apt name, “Apo ni Lola Durian Delicacies”.
Starting on his own in 1993 with just P500.00 of his own money, he has slowly overcome the odds to build a name for himself, way apart from the rest of the family. In the process, Apo ni Lola Durian Delicacies was born, built through hard work, a passion for the industry, and a strong determination to carry on the business of a grandmother long gone, thereby prove that indeed, the industry presents bright prospects to those who work hard enough to realize their dreams, just like what his grandmother has done before him.
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Outside Help Comes In
The journey however was long and slow, but this did not stop Jojo. He reminisces on those early years of his business, when he relied so much on the so-called “loan sharks” to provide him the badly-needed capital, having no other lending window to turn to. This came to a stop when he was able to link up with various institutions such as non-government organizations (NGOs), government agencies (Gas), and financial cooperatives.
More than 15 years later, his big break finally came with assistance from MASICAP Foundation in 2008. This was made possible through the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) One Town One Product (OTOP).
The Davao City-based team of the MASICAP Foundation prepared the Feasibility Study which was then submitted to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for possible financing assistance under the DBP-OTOP Financing Facility. By February 2009, said loan application was approved and released for P100,000.00. Half of the amount was used by Jojo to renovate and improve his store at Matina, Davao City, and the other P50,000.00 was used as additional working capital. In just a few short months, production increased by 60%, and his sales to go with it.
From just 1 to 2 cooking sessions per day when it started, Jojo now cooks 6 to 8 rounds of durian sweets a day, sometimes reaching 10 cooking sessions during peak season, such as the Kadayawan or Christmas. This he personally handles, and maintains that he has a hands-on approach in all aspects of the business, from pre-production such as buying raw materials, cooking, packing, labeling, to post-production such as marketing and promotion, and financial management.
A local distribution company for a milk product has likewise offered to supply his condensed milk requirement by giving him a 30-day credit with which to settle goods consigned to him. He now consumes 50 cases of the company’s milk product every month, up from 15 cases per month in years past, when he used to go to supermarkets for his requirement. This arrangement has enabled him to expand his production with just a minimum cash outlay.
Other raw material needs, such as fresh native durian, he gets from a well-established supplier who ensures he gets the much-needed supply anytime of the year. This can prove to be difficult, especially in lean months when the supply of native durian wanes, or when competition is at its peak. In such cases, his supplier goes the extra mile by sourcing out from other producers/middleman just so he gets the volume he needs. This has proven to be very vital to his operations, enabling him to keep pace with the growing demand for his durian sweets.
This “normalcy” in operations throughout the year has likewise enabled him to operate as planned, and has in turn afforded him the chance to hire 9 regular workerswho assist him in all aspects of the business. This is a significant improvement from the 3 staff he had when he was just starting.
Estimated gross sales per month for 2009 now reaches P160,000.00, which is more than double the P60,000.00 monthly gross sales in 2008. This big turnaround can be attributed to the DBP loan and the arrangement he has with a local distribution company for a milk product, not to mention the word-of-mouth promotion from old and new-found customers, as well as participation to trade fairs, both local and national.
To Innovate is to Create
“I am innovative and creative”, Jojo explains. These traits Jojo put to good use in his love for cooking, as he sought to improve on existing products, value-adding not just its taste but its look as well.
Jojo named his products “Durian Delight”, “Creamy Durian Bar” and “Creamy Mangosteen Bar”, to name just a few, aptly describing the luscious taste of his durian sweets which, some say, are more fleshy, tasty, and creamy, compared to similar products of competitors past and present. Not only has he made innovations on the durian sweet, but has likewise created 11 equally delectable variants such as durian mixed with butter, peanut, buko pandan, raisin, mangosteen, mallows, langka, mocha, yema and mango.
Aside from the taste, he has also changed the way durian sweets are packed and packaged, making use of ribbons to add color to the transparent plastic package, as well as colored paper to color-code the different variants. The latter is an important system he has devised to help him sort, separate, and keep tab of inventories for each of the different variants, as well as give added color to his product presentation. He also offers Durian Delight Assorted Flavors, either packed as 11 or 5 flavors in one plastic bag, enabling customers to get a taste of all or some of the variants. He likewise worked to get BFAD approval for his products which he did in 2005.
In terms of marketing and promotion, Jojo starts off by giving his customers, whether walk-in or not, free samples of his products for a first-hand taste. This leads, more often than not, to bigger sales and a loyal consumer base. He likewise opens his store to “emergency calls”, such as when a group of lady doctors from Tagum City woke him up at past midnight to buy his products for pasalubong.
Looking to the Future
Jojo is thankful to DTI for having triggered the spate of big breaks he is currently enjoying. Aside from the DBP loan, he has likewise availed of technical, marketing, organizational development and financial linkage trainings from the Institute of Small Farms and Industries (ISFI), an outreach arm of the Ateneo de Davao University.
At present, he is bent on lessening his loan balance with DBP, so that he can avail of an additional loan which he will use to further the growth of his business. He has also made use of his membership with the Food Producers Association of the Philippines (FPAD) and ISFI-AdDU through Craft Village Enterprise Development and Strengthening (CVEDS) Project as his products are being promoted in these organization’s various events, such as booth participation to trade fairs and exhibits. His products are also displayed in the stores of the others members which also add to his sales as well as promote his products to a larger market thereby cut on advertising costs. This he also does for the other members, as he also displays their products in his store in Matina.
At the end of the day, Jojo is guided by the thought that it is not just profits that count, but the good deeds one does to his neighbors, as well. (dti-dcfo)