Successful businesses are built on stable relationships based on mutual trust and benefits. Beyond profits, businesses exist to serve its numerous stakeholders that include suppliers, partners, shareholders, and most importantly the consumers.
Sunnywood Superfoods Corp. is one such company. Romeo Ong, its president who started the rice distribution company two decades ago, says Sunnywood owes its success to different key players in the market: farmers, traders, importers, millers, cooperatives, supermarkets and most importantly, the consuming public.
The supermarkets play a very important role in food distribution especially in the major populated areas. Sunnywood is keenly aware of this and makes sure that the supply of rice is delivered to the stores even in times of extreme shortages caused by bad weather. “If you ask them (supermarkets), they probably have nothing negative to say about Sunnywood. Through thick and thin, even with a strong typhoon like Ondoy in 2009, we continued to supply rice to them,” Ong says.
“Over the years, we have been very careful not to stretch ourselves too thin by expanding to other markets. Our supermarket partners remain our priority. When we are ready and have all the resources to service other markets, we will do so. Next year will see us reach out.”
Ong has always been interested in agribusiness. He graduated with degrees in AB Economics and BS Business Administration at the De La Salle University and worked at a local bank. But the 1976 graduate eventually chose rice distribution due to “a confluence of circumstances,” as he puts it.
First, the family of wife, Valentina, was, at the time the company was launched in September 1997, engaged in the rice business, supplying mostly the wet markets. Then, supermarkets were just starting to mushroom in the country. Sunnywood 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. 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.”
As the company celebrates its 20th year, Ong says there are plans to export its products overseas. How about other agricultural products? “I don’t see why not. I would love to see Sunnywood branching out to other agricultural products. I can see that in the future.”
“Anything that looks interesting and healthy will be considered,” he adds when asked what type of farm products other than rice the company would consider.
It was not easy building a company that sells branded rice in a country where many of its citizens are considered below or just within the poverty line. But Sunnywood persisted, 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 9 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.
Aren’t consumers confused about the three brands? Ong quickly says no. “The consumers are very intelligent. They appreciate the branding,” he says. “They can differentiate the types of products that are being offered by each brand.”
Speaking of consumers, Ong says their awareness of rice varieties and tastes have been raised to a higher level through the years. The characteristics of long grain, short grain, ‘laon,’ unpolished, organic, and sticky or ‘buhaghag’ are familiar with them. “When we introduced the black rice years back, for example, some buyers were incredulous 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 pleased to find out that these are locally produced and packed.”
“Then, we have to do a lot of convincing and educating for the supermarkets to accept more varieties (especially the unpolished, healthy rice) and brands. Now, it’s all out there in the market. It’s all about making sure all the players in the market appreciate the products to bring these to the consumers. The consumers’ vital role is to let their supermarkets know that they want the products which many times either is not carried comprehensively or ordered sparingly, leading to stock shortages on the store level.”
Sunnywood does not own farmlands. Instead, it carefully sources them 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.