Puto-kutsinta mix gears for an international invasion

(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer )
by Myrna Rodriguez Co, SERDEF
SASA, Davao City—Nenita Abad-Balino is a Tagala from Nueva Ecija who won over Davao with her, Kanegie Kakanin brand of puto, kutsinta, sapin-sapin and maja blanca instant mixes. The mixes are found in supermarket shelves all over Davao del Norte and have recently begun to be “exported” to Manila through the SM supermarket chain. She also has two mall-based pasalubong centers that sell ready-to-eat kakanin-sa-bilao like proverbial hotcakes.

When Nenita settled with husband Sammy in the latter’s native Davao City in 1993, she tried one small business after another to help her seaman husband support their young family. She had an ace up her sleeves: she knew how to formulate vanilla, lemon, and other food flavors, thanks to her Ate Rosario who learned the trade working in her husband’s food flavor enterprise in Malabon and passed it on to Nenita

Retailing was what Nenita tried at first. She ran a rolling store, a public market stall, and a sari-sari store—one after the other. She also supplied a leading store in Davao with volume quantities of the food flavorings she has learned to formulate, but orders from this one big client began to dwindle in time.

Within a year, it was clear that these tiny ventures were not getting them anywhere. Sammy suggested going back to Manila, but Nenita wasn’t about to go home “a loser.”

Giving birth twice

In 1994, after seven years of marriage and trying to have a baby, Nenita finally became pregnant and delivered a baby girl. Motherhood kept her homebound for a while, as Sam, who had just then turned his back to seafaring, minded the store.

As it turned out, it was not only a baby Nenita gave birth to but also another business project.

Boredom and the natural drive to create led Nenita to detour from the nursery to the kitchen, experimenting with food flavor and flour. Everyday, she had a new batch of puto and kutsinta. Today, pandan-flavored. Tomorrow, ube-flavored. The day after, durian-flavored. She must have exhausted her entire rack of flavorings.

Nenita’s first batches of puto-kutsinta found their first market at the canteen of a grade school nearby. Before long, she was supplying seven school canteens on consignment. She wasn’t making money, however, as bilaos of the kakanin were returned unsold and spoiled. Her luck with puto-kutsinta turned when she began supplying big hotels—Menseng Grand and Grand Royale hotels. As demand grew, she improved her bargaining position. Today, Nenita deals with these outlets no longer on consignment but on cash basis.

Within a year, Nenita had added sapin-sapin to her line of kakanin-to-go.

Next, she thought of producing kutsinta solution—a mixture of lye and water. This clicked and she was soon supplying NCC Supermarkets and Park ‘n’ Shop with bottles of the solution.

Diversifying, growing

It was just a matter of time and more kitchen experiments before Nenita developed an all-in-one pack kutsinta solution, flour and sugar. All a buyer had to do was to add water and then steam the mixture.

It was also just a matter of time before she introduced other all-in-one powdered mixes—cheese puto, maja blanca and sapin-sapin.

Today, Kanegie powdered mixes in many variants can be found in all supermarkets around Davao. These include Gaisano, Victoria Plaza, Park ‘n’ Shop, NCC, South City, SM Davao, and Buena Supermarkets. In addition she has a network of 15 distributors as far as GenSan and Cagayan de Oro City.

Last year, during a visit to Davao, SM-Manila’s procurement manager took an interest in Kanegie Kakanin mixes. The deal forged was an exclusive distributorship for SM of the products in the Manila and Luzon areas.

By this time, Nenita had moved production from her small kitchen to a 40-sq.m. area on the second floor of her two-story home in Sasa.

Eyeing more growth

With the successful entry of Kanagie Kakanin into the Manila market, Nenita expects bigger production volume. She needs to hire more people and buy more equipment like heavy-duty mixers and dispensers, pumps, and automatic packing and sealing machines.

As she is averse to sharing decision-making, she shuns suggestions to enter joint venture arrangements or look for financiers. What she needs, she says, is a big loan to enable her to upgrade her facilities.

Not that she lacks sources of credit. Her sister-in-law and some friends are open handed: she approaches them for small, quick loans. Cooperatives are also a good source of capital, she found out. Finding herself cash-strapped two years ago, she joined a cooperative and liked the experience. Today she is a member of four coops.

Sometimes she gets desperate enough to take her post-dated checks to someone willing to rediscount them.

She got wind of Micro Enterprise Bank’s credit program for micro entrepreneurs three years ago. She got a P50,000 loan to augment her working capital. She is now on her umpteenth loan cycle where she was able to get P150,000.

She is aware she has “graduated” from micro to small scale, and may no longer belong to the target clientele of Micro Enterprise Bank. Nenita wonders if a commercial or government bank would be willing to give her the kind of credit she needs, which she estimates to be “to the tune of about P1 million.”

In the meantime, she grabs every chance to promote her products. Last year, she joined the trade fair at the World Trade Center in Manila. This put her in touch with a Pasig-based international agent with whom she has begun negotiating to sell Kanegie Kakanin mixes to Australia, the United States and Guam.

Beyond Davao, Beyond Manila

Nenita’s ready-to-go kakanin and ready-to-cook mixes have undoubtedly won over Davao. And after successfully entering the Metro Manila and Luzon markets, she sees the international market beckoning.

Going by her record, Nenita seems bound for wherever she sets her eyes on.

Photo: “Puto 🙂” by Taniya Ahmed, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

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