MANILA, January 17, 2006
 (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - I was pondering over the prospects of the new year over a breakfast of longganiza, eggs and fried rice at my favorite Jollibee store a few days ago, trying to pin down signs and trends that would indicate how the average Filipino is faring these days. These restaurants make for ideal places to watch the regular Juan de la Cruz going about his daily pursuits, stopping by to recharge with classic Pinoy almusal fare.

Depending on which store and location you are in, you are bound to catch a slice of the Pinoy life at its most basic – families coming in together, schoolmates, officemates and just plain mates flocking in groups and in pairs, in their most unguarded moments, anticipa-ting a meal that would sate their hunger and provide them a value-laden deal, a must-have proposition for Pinoys who must get that added-value in every purchase, whether it be in the form of konting dagdag (such as a half-teaspoon more of garlic-flavored peanuts to top off a P10 purchase) or tawad (wala na bang bawas yan?).

Clearly, no economic or political crisis will prevent us from partaking of these fastfood delights, if we were to base our judgment on the number of customers who crowd into Jollibee stores. The popularity of this Pinoy variation to a foreign concept of fast food has become a phenomenon that has attracted the attention of many international marketing and financial institutions, noting how Jollibee has surpassed public expectations and is now one of the best performing Filipino companies. The much-respected Far Eastern Economic Review has ranked Jollibee as the No. 1 in overall leadership since 1997, in terms of financial performance. It has also earned its chairman and president, Tony Tan Caktiong, accolades and international recognition, including the World Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004 from Ernst and Young.

Jollibee has certainly come a long way since its first store in Cubao in the mid-’70s. A scant quarter of a century and it has become as familiar to (and cherished by) most Filipinos as home-cooked meal. Among kids, especially, the bright red-and-yellow bee with an oversized posterior is a great source of fun, and no self-respecting grade school or high school student would not have his meal of sweetish spaghetti and that trademark Chickenjoy. Familiarity With The Filipino Taste Buds What is the secret formula to Jollibee’s success? As I cut up my second longganiza sausage into smaller portions, and mix the egg with the garlic fried rice, I realize that Jollibee, more than any other restaurant, has evolved into a restaurant that has totally captured the Filipino palate; a fastfood restaurant offering meals that do not taste like fastfood fare at all.

Come to think of it, the many times I have had to eat at Jollibee, I could not remember ordering their hamburgers; instead, I opted for their chicken meals, their noodle combos (spaghetti and palabok) and even their soup and arroz caldo. How much more Pinoy of a meal can you get? If you do choose to get their langhap-sarap burgers, however, such as their Champ, it will be done MTO – made-to-order, a guarantee that the burger is made fresh and hot off the grill, after a short wait. Overseas Filipino Brand Jollibee has been a case study in most, if not all, marketing courses across the country, and a source of pride for Filipinos abroad (they have stores in the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Saipan, Vietnam and Brunei). International marketing companies have, likewise, noted Jollibee’s success over the global leader, McDonald’s, in the Philippines. Indeed, Jollibee has evolved into an Overseas Filipino Brand (OFB) as well.

Good to the last spoonful, this longganiza meal certainly hit the spot. It’s no wonder Jollibee is assured of the pole position in the local restaurant sector for a long time to come. If they continue to provide their customers with a wide variety of choices at affordable prices, they will continue to earn their customers’ loyalty and money.

As I folded up the complimentary newspaper (the Philippine STAR goes with an extra order of their pies at breakfast), and prepare to leave with a full and satisfied stomach, I begin to suspect that Jollibee could be a model – no, an ideal – for what this country could become, if only we got our act together. It is a well-managed, efficient and profitable enterprise, owned, run and patronized by Filipinos, as only Filipinos can. From its humble origins in Aurora Boulevard, it has become a global player and has won the admiration of the international community. This is not unlike the same aspirations we have for our own country.

There is also that sense that Jollibee’s continuing success rests largely in its firm commitment to retain and promote Filipino values and the Filipino way of life. In return, Filipino customers have brought Jollibee to the top of their priority list, making sure that every trip the family makes to the shopping mall includes a stop at a Jollibee store.

Jollibee continues to be on the front lines of consumer sentiment and spending power. Yes, the incomes of ordinary Pinoys remain shaky, and the worries of companies and households about economic and political stability persist, but the ubiquitous call center population, 8-to-5 yuppies, teenage barkadas, and parents with their kids carry on with the march to their favorite Jolly Meals place.

Jollibee grew significantly in 2005, even as 35 percent (based on AC Nielsen Retail Audit) of food product categories – packaged soup, powdered milk, frozen snacks, liquid concentrate, among others – are contracting. Inez Reyes, Jollibee’s VP for marketing, elaborated, "The growth comes from current customers who are buying more. They have intensified their support for the brand, making it stronger in all key measurements – product taste, value for money and promo offerings. Our customers have even become prouder to be seen in a Jollibee outlet." State-Of-The-Art Commissary Jollibee prepares 500,000 hamburgers, 350,000 Chickenjoy meals, 160,000 pocket pies, 450,000 buns and rolls, and 48 tons of spaghetti and palabok sauces every day. It also freezes and packs 175 tons of hamburger patties every week. To efficiently carry out these demands and serve millions of customers daily, the company set up a P1.5 billion world-class commissary known as Zenith Foods Corporation, a fully-owned subsidiary of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) located in Carmelray Industrial Park in Canlubang, Laguna. "The bigger and better commissary will ensure the superior quality and consistent great taste of our products," explained Wilma Boncaya, Zenith’s plant manager. "It will also enforce operational efficiency and strict adherence to environmental standards," she added.

Today, JFC has become a huge conglomerate; the expanded Jollibee corporate family now includes the Chowking chain of Chinese restaurants, Greenwich Pizza, Delifrance, a French delicatessen, and recently, the Red Ribbon chain. It has also bought Yonghe King in Mainland China, and continues to expand its business in the region. The company’s profit is expected to reach the P2 billion mark in 2005.

To Juan de la Cruz and his family, all these highfalutin reports translate to one thing: a good value of a meal worth his hard-earned pesos. Even as he counts his peso and spends as frugal as the times require him to, Mang Juan, the quintessential Pinoy, will demand only the best for himself and his family. Have you tried their crispy Chickenjoy lately?

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