DOMINIQUE SEE saw the ups and downs of a modern lifestyle: the convenience of living and the inconvenience of being unhealthy.
The proliferation of fast-food joints and the low awareness of the majority of the population have brought obesity and hypertension, among others, as major ailments of the century.
This, however, provided a window of opportunity to entrepreneurs like See, a 23-year-old marketing graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. See said in an interview with the BusinessMirror that it was a happy accident when she decided to become a food entrepreneur. As a result, she formed Grainhouse Inc.
See, the chief executive officer of Grainhouse, and her business partners saw an opportunity in the sorghum grain.
“Before entering the sorghum business, we were eyeing the biodegradable cutlery business and we were targeting the mothers who are also looking for ways to provide their children nutritional food,” she recalled.
SEE initially planned to import sorghum from other countries but the plan was shelved as they learned some farmers are growing sorghum in some provinces in the Philippines. See and her team lost no time establishing a linkage with farmers from Ilocos region. Furthermore, they found out sorghum was also being tested by the Department of Trade and Industry through its bio-research crop project. This assured See that the sorghum has good quality.
“For us, the demand is on food. You can never go wrong on food. There is always a demand for food,” she said. “We also want to give the farmers an extra income.”
It’s a good bet as the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced in November it plans to spend P15 billion until 2022 to plant sorghum in lands owned by indigenous peoples. (See “Government keen on planting sorghum in tribal lands” in the BusinessMirror, November 12, 2018.)
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told the BusinessMirror the DA is targeting to identify 100,000 hectares for sorghum planting next year. The government will plant sorghum in 3 million hectares at a cost of P5,000 per hectare.
GRAINHOUSE also promotes sorghum as part of a healthy lifestyle to a critical mass of Filipinos.
“Sorghum uses 60 percent less water than planting rice,” See said. “We want to reach a wider audience, such as people with lifestyle illnesses.”
Grainhouse wants to expand its market base. The start-up has diversified its product portfolio under the Wholly Grain brand by introducing new items to cater to the different tastes of the market.
See and her team conducted research on how to make sorghum accessible and enjoyable for people who have lifestyle diseases. Thus, the company developed sorghum popcorn and Pop Granola, also under the Wholly Grain brand.
Grainhouse also offers sorghum flour, which is gluten-free and fresher than the regular flour.
“We’re cheaper than the wholesome flour,” she said.
As part of the market positioning, See wants to tell the market that Wholly Grain products are genuinely healthy and wholesome. So much so that Grainhouse is also studying if sorghum can be made into beer.
“We have to determine first the health benefits of sorghum beer,” she said.
CURRENTLY, Grainhouse’s main thrust is to go to bigger markets by entering major shopping centers that have a critical mass.
“We want to convey the message that we are giving the market healthier alternatives,” she said. “Our target market is composed of people who are experiencing lifestyle diseases within the age of 50 and above who got executive checkups, experience a high level of blood sugar and with hypertension.”
For Popped Sorghum, See said the objective for Wholly Grain is to reach a bigger market, especially the younger generation such as the millennials, Generation Z and children. At present, Popped Granola has seven flavors.
At the same time, Grainhouse saw a market for vegans “and we try to adapt to their market by introducing products, such as cinnamon brown sugar.” She added that Wholly Grain also introduced vegan products for this market. At present, Wholly Grain is available in stand-alone stores in Alabang, San Juan, Cagayan de Oro and Quezon City, and online shops.
CURRENTLY, the vegan lifestyle is experiencing a growth in the Philippines. The Facebook page of the Vegetarian Society of the Philippines group alone has more than 7,562 members, aside from the other Filipino vegan support groups online. The Philippines even has its own page on the international Happy Cow directory, with a current list of 304 vegan and vegetarian restaurants all over the country.
Nevertheless, a majority of Filipinos are still reluctant to pursue a vegan lifestyle. In fact, the Philippines is ranked by some people as one of the most horrible countries to be vegan. A majority of Filipino cuisine are meat-based.