How do you harvest success?
I love meeting company presidents and entrepreneurs. They have such a wondrous success story to tell. Just recently, I met a good man named Romeo Ong, president of Sunnywood Superfoods Corp. Let me tell you his success story.
How do you harvest success?
Romeo Ong is harvesting success by continuously growing opportunities. The stable relationship he built based on mutual trust and benefits is what drives his success now, same with the stakeholders working with him. Beyond profits, businesses exist to serve its numerous stakeholders. That includes suppliers, partners, shareholders, and most importantly the consumers. Ong continuously presents opportunities to his investors, employees, and customers. Now, they are all harvesting the fruits of their good business plan, passion to succeed, and healthy relationship with one another.
It all starts with the interest in agribusiness
Ong’s passion and interest in agribusiness started way back when he opted to take up AB Economics and BS Business Administration at the De La Salle University. After graduation, he worked at a local bank. He later pursued rice distribution due to “a confluence of circumstances,” as he puts it.
First, the family of his wife Valentina was engaged in the rice business. It was also the time when Ong launched in September 1997 the Sunnywood Superfoods Corp, a rice distribution company. The wet market was Sunnywood’s primary market. Supermarkets were just starting to mushroom in the country and Ong seized the opportunity to grow with them.
“The interest in going into the agribusiness has always been there. I was thinking of a food processing business. This is the closest I got to it. I love it,” Ong says. “Anyway, the rice trading business is still about food. Rice is basic, especially for Filipinos. If I take my regular meal, I must have rice. I cannot eat without it.”
A formidable partnership with supermarkets follow
Sunnywood is able to form such great partnership with supermarkets. Ong considers supermarkets as vital in food distribution especially in the major populated areas. Sunnywood is very keen about this responsibility that even in times of extreme rice shortage caused by bad weather, they commit to deliver. Prove to that are the nice words these supermarkets have for Sunnywood. “Through thick and thin, even with a strong typhoon like Ondoy in 2009, we continued to supply rice to them,” Ong recalls.
What is admirable to the business philosophy of Ong is that he has been very careful in expanding to other markets. Sunnywood’s supermarket partners remain their priority. “When we are ready and have all the resources to service other markets, we will expand our partnership with other supermarkets,” He states. Ong sees next year as the perfect time to reach out.
Taking into consideration the consumer’s needs
Just like most businesses, conflicts arise. It is not easy building a company that sells branded rice in a country. This holds true especially where many of its citizens are considered below or just within the poverty line. But again, Sunnywood persisted. Through the strong leadership of Ong, the company embraced the challenges, and 20 years later has become a market leader.
“We are a strong player in the supermarkets, which is our main market. We are planning to go beyond that. In the next five years, we would like to be a very vibrant and hopefully the dominant brand,” Ong says.
Sunnywood started with just one brand — Harvester’s, its flagship that offers nine product items. Later on, the company added two more: Jordan Farms and Farm Boy. Jordan Farms offers specialty and healthy rice such as red, black, and brown rice. Farm Boy, on the other hand, offers good, affordable rice for the budget conscious.
Investing in educating its market
Ong speaks highly of its consumers. He regards them as highly knowledgeable after many years of educating them about rice varieties and tastes. He says that consumers can now differentiate the characteristics of long grain from short grain, ‘laon,’ unpolished, organic, and sticky or ‘buhaghag’.
He shares one incident when they first introduced the black rice years back. “Some buyers were dubious and wondered whether the grains were tinted black. So we had to explain to them that it is natural, very healthy and locally produced. Many thought the rice packed in attractive packaging were imported but were proudly pleased to find out that these are locally produced and packed,” he recalls.
Sunnywood’s patience to educate the market paved off. Now, more varieties (especially the unpolished, healthy rice) and brands are in the market. As they bring different variants in the market, they continuously educate their supermarket partners about the different grains. The consumers’ vital role, on the other hand, is to let the supermarkets know their preference.
Forging Ties with Farmers, Cooperatives
As the company celebrates its 20th year, Ong says there are plans to export its products overseas. The wise entrepreneur likewise sees Sunnywood branching out to other agricultural products. “I can see that in the future,” Ong says enthusiastically.
However, Sunnywood does not own farmlands. Instead, it carefully sources grains from farmers, cooperatives, millers, traders and importers through the years.
“As a company, it is one of our goals to assist and work with rural cooperatives that need help in finding markets for their products. We often sit down with them and discuss where and how we can help. Many of these coops have potentially good products and just needed a boost to get them to the market. The process is not as simple as it might seem. There are hurdles. The products have to be improved to standards acceptable to the market. Cost is always a consideration but we work with the prices that they quote us, prices they are happy with and good for supporting their families and community. That way they are encouraged to continue planting. Through this system, everyone in the whole supply chain – farmers/coops, Sunnywood, supermarkets and consumers – benefits,” Ong states.
How do you harvest success?
Sunnywood continuously offers opportunities for its market – farmers, importers, millers, cooperatives, supermarkets and most importantly, the consuming public. The company was able to build a stable relationship based on mutual trust and benefits. And now, it is harvesting good karma. By planting the seeds for a strong, stable relationship with its various stakeholders, Sunnywood is now harvesting success.