MANILA, January 17, 2004 (MANILA TIMES) By Cai U. Ordinario, Reporter - IN THESE fast times, an increasing number of Filipinos, particularly those belonging to the younger generation, has become heavily dependent on instant food.

The classic Filipino-Spanish delicacies, meanwhile, are left to the cobwebbed confines of forgotten cookbook shelves.

This is in large part due to the changing lifestyles of most homemakers who have traded cooking for a career in order to augment the family income, Home Meals Kitchen Corp.’s (HMK) director for Marketing and Sales, Boots Reynes said.

With this in mind, Reynes and a group of friends pooled a starting capital of P5 million from their personal savings and formed HMK to offer Filipino-Spanish meals packed in sanitary plastic boxes.

From its humble sales of 200 trays of executive Moving Feasts and Minute Meals a day in May, 2003, HMK’s industrial-capacity kitchen can now produce 1,000 meals or trays. Each Moving Feast tray is sold at P72 each while a Minute Meal sells for P40.

“Our growth pattern is better than what we originally projected. We are selling 20 times more now than when we started,” Reynes said.

Doing the homework

In 2001, HMK em­barked on a food and market research to ensure that the business would prosper.

“We studied the latest food preparation and preservation technologies; surveyed, identified, segmented and targeted our markets and worked on product testing and tastings as well as the packaging of the product,” Reynes explained.

As soon as the research was done, HMK started eyeing its target market—initially professionals and students in the Ortigas area as the kitchen was an apartment in Bagong Ilog, Pasig City.

They also chose convenience stores in gasoline stations, and went from office to office to get authorized merchants to distribute their merchandise.

Among the fruits of the two-year research period are the industrialized kitchen operated by two chefs, and the sanitized preparation of their merchandise.

This preparation starts from marketing, to cooking, packaging, and freezing the meals instantly in -17°C to keep them fresh and germ-free.

Just to check if methods make the food safe, they asked the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to test the food preparations. Weekly reports from the DOST consistently prove the cleanliness of the food.

On the menu

Moving Feast meals contain rice and any of the five standard viands—paelleta, adobo doble seco, pescado japones, costilla de Adan, and caldereta. The special meals consist of arroz ala Cubana, callos, lengua de angel, and arroz Tailandes.

Minute Meal trays contain rice and either chicken-pork adobo, humba, afritada, Pilipino bistek or sweet and sour fish.

“We’re not processed food, we’re not fastfood, we’re not junk food, we’re not TV dinner food. We don’t sacrifice taste for volume,” Reynes boasted.

Business started picking up by June 2003 and today the meals are now in supermarkets including SM and Rustan’s, as well as convenience stores like Bingo, La Boutique, and Treats.

The biggest break came at the World Food Expo in August, when more orders came and franchisee hopefuls started inquiring about the products. “We are now being approached by major supermarket and hypermarket chains and we will soon be everywhere,” Reynes said.

Brand expansion

With the launch of a franchising arm this year, HMK hopes to cater to tap various segments—customers on the go with Ready Meals, customers with low-calorie or low-cholesterol diet requirements with Special Function Meals, and customers looking for fine dining meals with Tuxedo.

Not stalls, but entire kitchens, will be franchised in several parts of Metro Manila by the third quarter.

Franchisees are required to pay P2.5 million for each kitchen, a P1-a-tray marketing fee and a P2-a-tray royalty.

HMK will provide the complete kitchen wherever the franchisee intends to set up, the authority to sell all the dishes; chefs to cook all the meals; a commissary that would offer lower prices as these are bought in bulk; a mission-critical computerized system; and marketing support in the form of fliers, posters, point-of-sale materials, and occasional national advertising.

“We know [our] market and we know it needs enhancement, change, improvement and a different approach. And, most important of all, our product is different, that’s our biggest edge,” Reynes said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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