November 11, 2004 (STAR) By Rocel C. Felix - About a year ago, three friends took a leap of faith and shed their corporate suits to go into farming. They pulled their early retirement windfall to put up a P9-million business called Hydrent Ventures lettuce farm.

For former Bank of the Philippine Islands executive A.S. Tanjanco, former Unilever marketing guy Nestle Jeturian and information technology specialist Tonito Vargas, there is a lot of potential in agriculture.

Rather than go into cash crops, the group decided to grow lettuce, a high-value commercial crop at their 1.3-hectare farm. They harvest every 45 days about 3,000 kilos of six leafy lettuce varieties — red and green oak, lollo rossa and lollo biondo, waldmans greens and green ice and romaine. Soon, other vegetables like salad tomato and bell pepper and herbs such as basil will also be grown.

Why lettuce? "First, you don’t need a big land to be profitable. It’s a high-value crop, which means higher margins. We understood many are still not used to eating salads, but there is a very big niche market, especially in Metro Manila, so we decided to tap that. Most of the vegetable salads are still being imported and we can produce that and sell it at more reasonable prices,"said Tanjanco who is the group’s director for business development.

The crop is grown in two big greenhouses using the highly-efficient hydroponic method which ensures that the lettuce are grown in a sanitized and controlled environment to eliminate the need for harmful chemical-based pesticides and contaminants. The farm also hosts a post-harvest facility where the goods are packed, washed, handled, sanitized, and chilled.

IT expert Vargas designed a computer-controlled irrigation system that provides the crops with exactly what they need in terms of nutrients, exactly when they need it.

"Unlike the traditional form of organic farming which carries the risk of bacterial infection by using compost materials for nutrition, hydroponic farming ensures that only the required nutrients found in compost material are transmitted in soluble form through driplines in the greenhouse. This ultimately means clean, safe, fresh and high-quality produce," said Tanjanco.

The greenhouses are equipped with humidity-controlling misters and fans, allowing for year-round production that eliminates the seasonality normally associated with high-end crops..

Jeturian said the group did its homework before venturing into lettuce farming.

"We went to several provinces such as Cebu, Bukidnon and many other places. It was a learning experience. For instance, there are also other means of growing lettuce other than our hydroponic method which is more expensive but which, I believe, produces better quality lettuce. We did our market feasibility study, we wanted to make sure that we had a market. Looking back, we should have initially done trading. So we not only looked for a market, we created a market as well," said Jeturian.

Hydrent Ventures now supplies supermarkets such as Shopwise (Libis/Makati/Alabang/Araneta) and South Supermarket. It also delivers to hotels such as Dusit Hotel, Pan Pacific Hotel, Heritage Hotel, Manila Hotel, Astoria Plaza, Hyatt Hotel & Casino, Richmonde Hotel, Great Eastern Bellevue Hotel, Traders Hotel, Manila Diamond and Westin Pilippine Plaza. Some of the restaurants and bars it supplies are Windows Café , Gourdos Café & Restaurant, Lumiere, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Oliver’s Super Sandwiches, Bizu Patisserie, Kulinarya, Masas, Cena, Palm Country Club and Vargas Kitchen.

The risks they took are paying off and has spun two other businesses – Heartlands Salad Sensations and farm consultancy.

Heartlands Salad Sensations offers different kinds of salads with lettuce as the base ingredient. The salads are prepared by a chef and delivered to business establishments in Quezon City, Ortigas, Pasig, Mandaluyong and Makati.

"We are getting about 150 orders daily. We were riding on fitness conscious Filipinos looking for an alternative to mostly unhealthy fastfoods. By creating a ready-to-eat salad line we created another market," said Jeturian.

The salad comes in two packages – regular and big, The big one costs P100 and the regular is priced at P75. Orders are made over the phone or through text message placed a day ahead because they prepare the meals at night in time for delivery the next morning. (For inquiries on Heartlands Salad Sensations text 0917-8556971 or e-mail

The group also forayed into farm consultancy which involves the setting up of high-value farms and systems both for the government and private sectors. Their current projects include the creation/enhancement of farm-to-market systems in Cebu for local farmers in cooperation with the local government and a livelihood project in San Manuel, Pangasinan in partnership with San Roque Power Corp.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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