(first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Biz, February 5, 2012)
by Myrna Co
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—This city is known as the City of Golden Friendship for valid reasons. Cagayan-ons are known to be gentle and genteel, cheerful and friendly even to strangers.
Cagayan de Oro is also home to an excellent ham-making (meat processing) tradition, which has spawned an estimated 40 plus ham makers, big and small.
Among the leading ham makers in this city is SLERS Industries which has come a long way from being the kitchen-based business it was in the 60s to the dynamic, global, multi-product enterprise it is now. The growth it has achieved was driven by modern systems and relentless product development.
There are two enterprising women responsible for what SLERS has become: Fely Pelaez, the school teacher turned ingenious cook who began ham-making for household use and then made a promising cottage enterprise out of it; and her daughter Mercedes Pelaez Mejia who established systems, diversified production and marketing, and adopted food-making technology and international standards of quality.
Where it started
It began in Bukidnon in the ’60s, recounts Fely Pelaez, still pretty and chic at 81. Her husband, who comes from Cebu, was working for the Del Monte Pineapple Corporation, which was raising its own hogs in the company compound. It was also making its own American country-style ham and all families of the staff, both Filipino and American, were given one leg each every Christmas.
“I loved cooking and making all kinds of food stuff from scratch. I experimented with ham-making using the country-style ham as model.” Basically adopting the technology used at Del Monte, she came up with her own version: Combination American style ham and Chinese ham. “Meaty, juicy, and not too salty.”
Fely would bring her ham to Cebu during Pelaez family reunions, winning raves. Relatives and eventually friends ordered the ham every Christmas. Soon, Fely was making it on a year-round basis as her market increased.
In 1969, Fely established SLERS (an acronym that stood for the names of the five Pelaez children) with P10 capital.
She then registered the business with the now defunct National Cottage Industries Development Administration (NACIDA) which granted her a P5,000-loan.
At first, Fely’s hams were being patronized by a handful of loyal customers, with some military officers in Metro Manila sending helicopters to Bukidnon to pick them up. In time, SLERS ham became available at supermarkets. Among her biggest customers was the Philippine Sugar Commission (Philsucom) in Manila to which she would ship 5,000 legs of ham in a refrigerated 20 ft container van at Christmas time.
In 1988, when daughter Mercedes, then already married , joined the company, Fely appointed her Managing Director.
A BS Tourism graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Mercedes engaged in a flurry of innovations that parlayed the erstwhile little-known micro business into one of the biggest and most dynamic food enterprises in Misamis Oriental.
SLERS now produces and sells ham and other meat products at a volume of 2,000 kg a day in major supermarkets such as SM, Robinsons, Gaisano and Ororama in Cagayan de Oro and the rest of Mindanao. The products are also distributed through seven company-owned outlets known as SLERS Pica-pica . The company also owns two dining places that sell SLERS products as meals: SLERS Express Meals and SLERS Ham and Café.
From P10 capital, the company now has P40 million in capital assets.
A plethora of innovations
Among the innovations Mercedes introduced, the most visible is product development.