What’s the shape of your cookie?

By Ma. Cristina C. Arayata

MANILA, Sept 20 (PNA) — In an industry where there is tight competition, how can one excel and make a difference?

While passion plays a very important role, one entrepreneur showed that continuous innovation would keep the business going and growing.

The Philippines News Agency (PNA) sat down with Tricia Castrodes, chief operating officer (CEO) of Aretei Foods Corporation, to learn more about her business and her Cookie Sticks.

She and husband Marc Castrodes were both government employees before. However, when Tricia got pregnant to her second child in 2007-2008, she decided to stay home.

Castrodes loves baking and started baking cupcakes. At first, her clients are her friends and the products can be availed through online ordering. Clients wanted cakes so she started making personalized cakes on weekends, and breads during weekdays. These breads are being delivered to some restaurant chains up to present.

Until in 2013, she started baking small cookies. Castrodes cited that it’s because they were looking for a product that has a longer shelf life. “We wanted to explore, to experiment,” she said.

“What’s the difference if this cookie is round-shaped (like all else)?” she asked. So in 2014, she started selling Cookie Sticks, with the aim of offering a different product, with a different packaging and labeling.

At present, her company makes 200 jars of Cookie Sticks per day. From selling her products online, she now has three kiosks in SM Megamall, Fairview and Southmall.

Government intervention

Way back in 2010, the couple learned about the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) program called SETUP (Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program) – the agency’s flagship program that provides assistance to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through funding, technology upgrade and manpower training. It helps MSMEs improve product quality, productivity and competitiveness.

It is a loan payable in three years. The couple applied for it in 2009 to buy equipment. The loan (Php 250,000) was granted in 2010 and is already paid. A second loan amounting to almost Php 1 million was made last year.

”They (DOST) helped us develop our product, to fix our systems. They extended help in every aspect that they could,” Castrodes emphasized.

Last May, meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) gave the couple the chance to be part of an international food expo. Castrodes expressed her gratitude for the chance to showcase their product to the world. She’s also excited that Cookies and Sticks will be part of Manila FAME in October. Three new flavors (Mango Cashew, Malagos Chocolate Raisin, Calamansi Almond) that she has developed recently will be showcased during that event.

Her husband cited that what’s unique with startup (businesses) is that most of them do not have funds. “It’s good that there is government assistance,” he continued.

The power of innovation

Castrodes’ goal is to maximize the products that they have, have more products and provide more livelihood.

How can one be different and unique in food business? “It (baking) was a trial and error. I keep on researching,” she said, adding that she just studied baking by herself and did not enroll in any baking or culinary class.

She noted that the product has to be presentable, too.

When her business was just starting, they only had two bakers. Now, they have 10 people in production site and six people in their kiosks.

On maintaining the business

The couple said putting up a business is hard. “Tipid kami sa pagkain. Walang stroller ang anak naming,” Marc described as to how were they when they were starting.

”It has to be your own passion, because there would be times when you’d like to quit,” said Tricia.

The couple both suggested that if one wants to start a business, it has to be started right. It has to be legal and the documents needs to be completed. Castrodes mentioned that asking for DOST’s assistance became easier for them since their papers are complete. The two added that a business should be done right, as good manufacturing practice (GMC) will be seen in the end-product.

”Ask advice from friends who’s knowledgeable in accounting, in HR, etc.),” noted Marc.

Tricia, meanwhile, emphasized calculated risk. According to her, one should start small, so that whatever happens, the person could get up and recover.

Finally, the couple’s advice is for the entrepreneur to enjoy (what he/she is doing).

Very soon, according to Tricia, Cookie Sticks will be available at SM Snacks Exchange. They’re also currently working on extending the cookies’ shelf life. “We’re working to make it last for at least one year, so we could sell it abroad,” she said. Cookie Sticks are good for six months. The couple is currently excited for Christmas since their products are also designed to be suitable as giveways and gifts.

How about you? What’s the shape of your cookie? (PNA)