Success, they say, is sweeter when earned the hard way. For entrepreneur Lydia Veneracion, 60, her Bulacan Sweets was nurtured with hard work and perseverance. Over the last 24 years — and still going strong — Bulacan Sweets’ specialties like pastillas and candied fruits have become household names. Starting with only 10 kinds of sweets and candies in 1970, Bulacan Sweets is now manufacturing and selling over 200 products. It has also expanded its product lines and now engages in the canning and bottling of Bagoong, Lechon Paksiw, taba ng talangka (crab fat paste) and binagoongan (shrimp paste).
From only one display shelf in 1970, it now has 13 outlets in most shopping malls in Metro Manila. “I was happy if I earned P100 per day during that time,” Veneracion says of her business, which has since grown into a multi-million-peso venture. Veneracion recalls she only had P1,000 as capital in 1970 when she started her business in an aprtment in Retiro Street (now Amoranto Street) n La Loma, Quezon City.
Today, she has a candy factory, a kitchen and a laboratory.
She says she used to buy pastillas and other candies from her relatives in her hometown of San Miguel, Bulacan. At that time, she only had two helpers to assist her in making some of the products she sells. Bulacan Sweets now employs over 60 workers. She takes pride that most of her sales ladies can afford to go to school during their spare time.
Making candies has always interested Veneracion. She inherited her love for cooking and food preparation from her grandmother, also a Bulakeña.
At an early age, she learned how to make fruits like mangoes and kamias into mouth-watering candies. Veneracion, who used to work as a government nurse in the 1960’s, opted to retire early when her four children were growing up. Setting up a store then was just a hobby to ease the boredom she felt while wating for her children to rturn from school. Lucky for her, husband Lorenzo Veneracion — now a Regional Trial Court Judge of Manila — has always been supportive of her endeavor. The growth of the Bulacan Sweets business exemplifies Filipino entrepreneurship, partnership and creativity. Veneracion relates that during the first two years of her business, the store only had a handful of buyers.
It was her husband who helped in the initial marketing of their products when he used direct mail to attract customers. She remembers her husband sending letters to people listed on the telephone directory. It so happened that one of the letters reached a writer of a national daily. The writer who dropped by her store was so impressed with her products that she featured her in her column. “The next day, I was shocked when so many people flocked to our store. I even sold all the items in the glass shelf,” Veneracion relates. As sales continued to grow, the Veneracion couple visited several provinces nationwide to include regional delicacies in their product lines. “We have to do this because our customers were asking for these products,” Veneracion says. Bulacan Sweets doesn’t only offer delicacies from Bulacan, but also sells pili nuts from Bicol, vinegar from Ilocos, broas from Quezon, bokayo from Pangasinan and pure honey from Palawan. The creativity of the people behind Bulacan Sweets is evident with the stores’ colorful boxes and artfully-wrapped products, which have set a trend in the packaging of native delicacies.
These artistic wrappers have become so popular that they are now sold separately. Veneracion hires the services of an expert designer to create beautiful wrappers for the sweets. Preserved fruits in the bottles are also distinctively prepared with their handcrafted designs. Fruit preserves, too, are shaped creatively. Several hotels and catering businesses are also ordering Bulacan Sweets products for their customers. To improve her products, Veneracion takes time to attend seminars here and overseas. She recently attended a seminar in Japan to get ideas on the latest technology n the food sector, including the packaging of delicacies. She is also part of a nationwide organization called Integrated Manufacturers of Food Products Philippines that aims to help food manufacturers improve their products and find solutions to problems nagging the industry. Veneracion says the main problem of her business is the expensive price of sugar and sometimes, the lack of fruit supply, which are the main ingredients of her products.
To preserve the continuity of the business, Veneracion has asked her daughter — Loli, a graduate of hotel and restaurant management — to help her in the business. She adds that she wants the business to be a family tradition. Both mother and daughter help each other to assess the market situation and decide on the need to open new outlets. The Bulacan Sweets owner, meantime, has for her most fervent wish the sale of her products nationwide, and even in overseas markets. Although Bulacan Sweets has yet to have an overseas outlet, its products are now sold in the United States and some countries in Asia. Regular distributors are selling the products overseas under different brands. The products also reach foreign shore because many balikbayans are buying them as pasalubong to their friends and relatives overseas. Veneracions says she hopes to continue with the sweet success of her products by ensuring quality produce in excellent packaging. More importantly, she recognizes the value of good customer relations. For someone in the business for the last 24 years, the Bulacan Sweets entrepreneur knows what it takes to make a success story.