POSTSCRIPT / January 16, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Mekeni steps gingerly into Japanese market

PORAC, Pampanga — Multi-awarded meat processing enterprise Mekeni Food Corp. of this town has diversified quietly into the production of a non-meat product for export to Japan.

Its president, Prudencio “Pruds” Garcia, told visiting journalists yesterday that Mekeni has produced pickled ginger and will make its initial delivery shortly in a first tender step into Japan’s market known for its exacting standards in food and discriminating consumer tastes.

The Japanese buyer has issued a one-year purchase order with target shipments of 50 tons every month. A 20-kilo test shipment is set to be air-freighted this week.

Pruds expressed hope that their pickled ginger will help open the finicky Japanese market for Mekeni’s signature processed meat products such as hotdog, ham and the popular Pampanga delicacies pork tocino and longganiza that are now also selling with surprising success in Dubai.

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COMMUNITY CONCERN: Explaining Mekeni’s vision, Pruds impressed on the officers of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) who visited Mekeni’s 26-hectare processing complex in barangay Balubad here that:

“More important to us is Mekeni’s desire to open bigger opportunities for local ginger farmers.” Concern for neighbors has always been a central guide in the family’s business.

In low points in Mekeni’s life, the family always fell back on the community, consulting the local folk what they thought and what they wanted for their common lives. The community’s gut feel had proved right.

The business started in 1986 as a backyard poultry and piggery when the patriarch Felix and his wife Meding decided to augment their modest income as public school teachers. Their guiding light was an abiding faith in God and concern for their neighbors.

The P800-million business now employs more than 1,000 workers, the bulk coming from this town. The company’s outreach program is noticeable even in how barangay Balubad has been transformed.

(Elsewhere, mekeni is sometimes spelled mequeni in the older orthography — which this writer favors. Mequeni/Mekeni is actually a contraction of the longer “Ume ca queni” which transliterates into “Come [you] here”. “Balubad” is Capampangan for “kasoy” or “cashew”.)

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PATRIARCH’S CALL: The five Garcia brothers who had been helping out as plant workers and salesmen, acquired good education in the meantime. Three of them later answered the lure of good-paying jobs abroad.

But life patterns were thrown in disarray by the eruption in 1991 of nearby Mt. Pinatubo. Pampanga was devastated, Porac lay prostrate, local folk lost their means of livelihood, and the Mekeni plant was damaged with no indication of speedy recovery.

Pruds recalled: “My parents told us (the brothers Adrino, Prudencio, Angelito, Diosdado and Nardo) it was time to pay back a favor to the community that had sustained the family through the years.”

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ANOTHER CRISIS: The rallying call prompted him and his brothers who were also working abroad to leave their lucrative jobs in the Middle East and Germany. They came rushing home to Balubad.

They pooled their savings and their acquired business acumen to begin in 1993 resurrecting and transforming the venture into what it is today.

The rebounding business was set back again during the Asian financial meltdown in 1997. They almost closed it were it not for the insistence of their patriarch that the enterprise must stay open if only to continue giving employment to the local folk.

“That intervention of our father and the positive response of the community saved Mekeni,” Pruds said.

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GLOBAL RECOGNITION: Still a family-owned corporation, Mekeni holds the distinction of being the first Philippine and Asian meat processor to be awarded an ISO 2000 certification in 2006. It got its second ISO certification in 2013 for food safety, the first hotdog and tocino processing plant in the Philippines to be so certified.

The certification by the International Organization for Standardization is recognized worldwide as a seal of an institution’s adherence to quality managements systems in its operations.

The “new kid in town” has also garnered prestigious awards from the Business Initiative Direction (BID), in Geneva in 2012 and in Frankfurt in 2013, for “total quality and technology innovations”.

Mekeni copped in the “AAA” category the best meat processing plant award for 2004, 2005 and 2006 from a government committee chaired by the National Meat and Inspection Service, followed by the Grand Slam award in 2007.

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GINGER FARMS: Pruds said these awards were clear assurance to consumers that the processed meat products of Mekeni are “produced with care and are safe to eat.”

This global recognition was among the reasons cited by Japanese investors in choosing Mekeni, instead of older and bigger food firms, as their partner in the raising and processing of ginger as a side dish for discriminating diners.

Planting sites have been chosen whose soil, water content and other characteristics are deemed just right for the export-quality ginger variety that the Japanese investors want to introduce and propagate here.

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CHALLENGES: Mekeni’s picnic premium hotdogs are its best seller. But for lack  of official statistical data, Pruds could not say what their share of the hotdog market is.

He admitted, however, that the competition in the industry is getting tighter on account of the growing number of new entrants. Mekeni, btw, does not operate retail stores or outlets. It deals directly with wholesalers and distributors.

Profits are also being squeezed by rising production costs attributed to the sustained rise in the prices of electricity and energy resources, raw materials, wages and taxes.

Pruds expressed optimism, however, that the venture would overcome this new adversity as it has done in the past — by keeping faithful to its reason for being, which is working with and for the community where its life began.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 16, 2014)

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