MANILA, September 13, 2005
 (STAR) By Rose De La Cruz - Fruit Magic was the first to introduce the fresh fruit business in the country in 1993 as RPM Fruit Magic.

But under the direction of its current president and CEO, Alfredo "Alan" L. Escalona – a doctor by profession–the company was also the first to professionalize the fresh fruit juice industry when a new group, Fruit Magic Co. Inc. acquired Fruit Magic in 1994.

The new owners of the company shelled out $15,000 in 1994 to send Escalona to the US to train on the fresh fruit juice business with the Jamba Juice Group. Jamba Juice has a total of 100 stores across America.

Escalona’s training also involved learning the operating and inventory systems of fast food chains, which worked well for Fruit Magic.

Upon Escalona’s return to the country, he reformed everything in the company–from A to Z or from materials procurement to inventory keeping or storing and shelf life; to accounting and auditing; to organization, recruitment and human resource development. "The whole gamut of the day to day operations," he said.

Having completed the overhaul, Escalona then improved on the marketing systems with his "simple diagnosis, simple solutions formula" which he acquired from his medical schooling and short practice.

When the new company took over in late 1998, Fruit Magic had six outlets that were rightly located in different malls. "Imagine, I did not have to apply anymore. I just had to make each outlet operating very soundly," he said.

"I asked the new owners to give me two years to run it and if I fail then they can replace me. So the owners gave me blanket authority to run the outlets and I did great and grew the stores to its current number, 37 stores," Escalona said.

Last July, Escalona launched the franchising program of the company, which he hopes to improve the number of outlet some more this year by five and then by another eight to 10 in 2006.

The program involves either a kiosk (three sided module) with investment of P750,000 to P850,000 (inclusive of P250,000 franchising fee) and a cart (a single front module) with investment of P700,000. The franchise term is five years renewable for another five years or more depending on the credibility of the franchisee.

The renewal does not involve paying another franchise fee but entails another approval of the Board, Escalona explained.

"Would-be franchisees must think like us, meaning they share in our mission and vision; they must be like our alter ego–a manager of his own store; and must be dedicated to growing the business with us," Escalona said.

The average return on investment is 1.9 years and two months, he said.

Escalona said he has received over a hundred inquiries from would-be franchisees and would recommend the deserving ones to the Board in two to three weeks after evaluation.

The doctor in him also keeps him attuned to the medical trends and practices in the US, where now there is a successful nutrition campaign of five to nine fruits and vegetables intake per person a day.

Escalona is soon launching a similar, though smaller, campaign citing the health benefits of five colors of fresh fruits and vegetables in one’s drink per day at the Fruit Magic outlets.

The campaign slogan is "Five A Day the Fruit Magic Way," which will run in all 37 company-owned outlets.

"My campaign may not be as grand as that in the US but better to start small and growing than not to start at all," Escalona said.

The five (fruits and vegetables) a day will definitely bring an added year-round market for local fruits and vegetables growers, Escalona said.

Essentially, the campaign in the US is that a person needs a pound of carrots, a pound of apples, orange and other nutritional vegetables and fruits daily to keep himself fit and healthy, Escalona said.

"But it is too tedious to be doing this at home. Imagine buying a pound each of these different colors of fruits and vegetables. Besides, they do not sell by piece of these items here but by kilo or less. Then it has to be peeled and extracted of juice or by a heavy-duty juicer, which is so expensive here," he explained.

Beginning this month, Fruit Magic Co Inc. will launch in its 37 outlets in the country its version of five-in-one drink, particularly in the outlets of its partner, Fitness First gyms where clients are very discriminating about their nutritional intake.

Even without the campaign yet, Fruit Magic has been buying big volumes of local fruits and vegetables, which it keeps in blast freezers and are brought to the outlets where they are stored in chillers and refrigerators.

Other fresh fruit juice companies–that have franchised out their stores located mostly in malls–display fresh fruits which, if not consumed within a limited period of time spoils and must be thrown away.

A glass of this 5-in-1 drink will definitely be pricey at P85 for medium and P100 for large glasses because the raw materials themselves are expensive, Escalona explained.

The drinks are classified as: body cleanser– a pure nectars category – made up of apple, orange, pineapple, carrot and cucumber; fruit shakes comprising of strawberry, mango, pineapple, banana and kiwi; and the penta mix or shake of all local fruits with strawberry, pineapple, banana, mango and papaya (all locally available).

"Pretty soon, I will also come out with concoctions of locally available edible grasses, shoots and green and leafy vegetables as juices," Escalona said.

Escalona buys his strawberries by bulk in Baguio and Benguet and stores them in freezers immediately so that he has supplies of fresh frozen strawberries throughout the year.

"As our business grows, I hope to be able to expand the market for homegrown fruits and vegetables and utilize as little as possible imported ones like apples and oranges and kiwi," Escalona said.

Escalona said he also hopes to promote indigenous herbal- based but nutritional drinks to increase the awareness of farmers to fully utilize their lands by growing other valuable crops.

He also promotes soya milk in combination with fruit shakes, which is becoming popular in the US and Europe as a health drink–even healthier than dairy milk.

* * * Fruit Magic Co. Inc #27 Rizal Ave. Ext. Grace Park, Kalookan City Tel: 3646927/3643621

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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