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Leading health-food company diversifies into organic produce

HEALTHY Options Inc., reputedly the leading chain of premier health-food stores in the country, is projecting a 20-percent increase in its retail sales this year, boosted by its new organic-produce line.

For the new line, the company invested an initial P3 million in a 5-hectare organic farm in Majayjay, Laguna, in 2012, said Romy Sia, managing director of Healthy Options.

“It’s a partnership with the Costales Nature Farms. We built chicken coops, put in money to buy more breeds, to buy more pigs and set up a hygienic vegetable processing plant,” Sia told the BusinessMirror. The plant, he said, was “especially critical” to assure Healthy Options’s clients that they would be buying only the freshest and cleanest produce.

The new line of organic vegetables, culinary herbs, pork, chicken and eggs will be sold under the brand “Organika” in all 18 stores of Healthy Options, most of which are found in leading malls nationwide.

Organika was formally launched last week with a fashion show at E’s bar at the Edsa Shangri-La Manila. “By launching these products from our very own farm, we renew our commitment to giving our customers better choices for a better life. It is also a show of support to small organic farmers, and to healthy, humane and sustainable farming,” according to Sia.

Via text message, he said that Healthy Options “hopes to grow by 20 percent in sales this year, especially with the contribution of the Organika line.” In 2012, Sia added, sales grew by 11 percent. The company’s   biggest sellers are its multivitamins, food and herbal supplements and natural hair dyes.

At the sidelines of Organika’s press launch, Ronaldo Costales, vice president and chief operating officer of Costales Nature Farms, said the property produces monthly 8 to 10 tons of organic vegetables such as lettuce, culinary herbs, cabbage, French beans and cherry tomatoes.

The farm also has 50 head of pigs and 2,000 to 2,500 heads of chicken “at any given time, just to supply Healthy Options.”

Six months after they are born, the hogs are brought to a double A slaughterhouse in Sariaya, Quezon, which ensures the sanitary conditions under which the animals are prepared.

Founded in 2005, Costales Nature Farms has been supplying organic vegetables and culinary herbs to restaurants and hotels in Metro Manila. But its hogs and chickens will be exclusively sold to Healthy Options, Costales said.

Meanwhile, Sia said he decided to go into organic products after witnessing the heartless way hogs were transported from the farms to slaughterhouses often in cramped jeepneys or  trucks. “They’re not treated well. Just because we eat pigs doesn’t mean we should mistreat them. I cannot have in good conscience to sit down and eat pork adobo or lechon knowing how much the pig has suffered.”

He noted that in the UK where he also keeps a home, hogs are raised differently. There, Sia said, “they focus a lot on the welfare of the animals.” Organic farming, he added, believes in the same kind of techniques in raising farm animals.

Most industrial farms use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified crops, while steroids, growth hormones, sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics and synthetic trace supplements are usually injected into farm animals.

While organic products are often priced higher than ordinarily grown produce and farm-bred animals, Sia underscored the health benefits of eating such products. “We want cheap food yet all these chickens, for instance, are injected with growth hormones for them to grow bigger and fatter.”

Most commercial farms also practice mono-cropping, which leads to higher pest attacks, use additives to hasten production and cram poultry and livestock in very tight, unsanitary spaces that expose them to stress and diseases.

Since the company’s soft launch of Organika in September, Sia said, the response has been overwhelming. Healthy Options’s customers are often affluent, coming from the A-B classes who can afford the higher price points of organic produce.

Aside from offering superior meat and vegetable produce, Healthy Options’s farm does not cause excessive waste or pollution, resulting in a healthier ecosystem.

“We will deliver products that have the Healthy Options guarantee of freshness and quality, just as we have been doing for more than a decade,” Sia said.

With his partner and childhood friend Christian Tan, he founded Healthy Options in 1995, as an offshoot of Sia trying to find relief for his son’s food allergies. Sia and Tan have since branched out to a natural pet-food and accessories store called Bow & Wow and a premier wine shop, Wine Story.

In Photo: Romy Sia







Health & Fitness