Another Pinoy staple

Oct 15, 2016

Sardines will always be part of the Pinoy life. If you need proof of this, check out the shelves of your nearby supermarket, or even the neighbourhood convenience stores or sari-sari stores. The sheer affordability and perhaps also the versatility of this canned food can make an ordinary family get by.

Many Filipino sardine brands have become favorites over the years, and one of these is Mega Sardines. The company's president and ceo, William Tiu-Lim shared with us that, although he made his fortune in fishing, the family business that he grew up with was totally different - department stores. When he was growing up, they had one in Rizal Avenue.

As a young man, he also remembers visiting his future wife who was from Palawan and whose family was into big-time fishing. His future father-in-law had several fishing vessels but these were all old and over-used from decades in the business. He was inspired to go into fishing and convinced himself that even with old vessels, he could make his fishing business thrive.

But, as William himself said, it was all easier said than done. It took him ten years to stabilize his new business, constructing newer vessels in the Navotas ship yard starting in 1972. He embraced the business and braced himself for the long haul - he shunned the lighter boats and started with a big boat with steel haul, his own carrier. But while his wife's family had 20 boats, he had one carrier, one light boat and one skip boat that he brought to better fishing grounds in Masbate and Quezon.

In a span of ten years, he slowly added to his fleet because he realized that with very limited vessels, one cannot rotate the boats, becoming prey to maintenance problems. Still, he found it a constant struggle, remembering that at the end of every year, his books never had a positive balance. In 1992, he moved to another fishing ground in Zamboanga, but here he had to contend with the marginal fishermen in the area who had a field day scooping out his fishes from his nets into their bancas before he could haul in the nets.

In Zamboanga, they would catch tons of tamban which they sold to several canners for sardine-making. Supply of the tamban was not a problem. In fact, they always had bountiful harvests but the law of supply and demand ruled. Because of over-supply, the price of tamban kept dipping until William decided to go into canning himself rather than give away his catch at rock-bottom price. This was the start of Mega Sardines.

He went into canning with the idea of giving himself an edge over his competitors - his fish was going to be fresher. He delivered his stocks to supermarkets but they did not seem to move. Even with fresher fish, he was up against big manufacturers with known brands and established distribution systems. The challenge was to let the buying public know about his new brand, and the answer was advertising.

He needed a celebrity endorser, one that could call attention to his brand. That was the time of Muro Ami, the hit local movie production that starred Cesar Montano and dealt with deep sea fishing, the perfect vehicle for his sardines. The famous actor became his official endorser, the face of Mega Sardines. In this new phase of the business, he improved on his product, hiring a new canning manager and researching well into the canning business and how to achieve a consistent quality for Mega Sardines. At that time, he had a difficult time getting the requisite certification that other more established brands secured to attest to his quality. He travelled to the US and to Europe to learn more about the right fishing methods because at that time he already had his eye on export. Some of his competitors were already venturing into export, but not yet on a full container load, and this became his immediate goal. If he can export on a full container load, he would be the first in the Philippines to do it.

Maybe because he has an eye unlike most of us who are not in the business, he noted that it took an hour- and- a- half to drain the fishes, which accounts for some measure of staleness. He found the answer in the fish pump which could fill up 1,000 banyeras in 15 minutes, with the fish still alive.

In the fishing business, there is quick turn- around of one's capital. In one or two days, your fish is delivered and paid for but with the canning business, your capital "sleeps" for months. But the system for the canning business has been laid out carefully, the potential is greater, and with keen advertising, the brand is now well-known. There was no turning back now; the challenge was to give customers a better product. From the fish pump, William graduated to the vacuum pump. The very core of his business was the freshness of the fish, and even when the fish has been vacuumed into a sterile tank, there is no human contact which can lower the temperature of the fish. All the aspects of production have been automated with precision, because timing and the perfect temperature and salinity are vital to his operations. From catching to canning, it should not take them more than 12 hours to ensure the freshness and quality of the fish before it is steamed inside the can.

Now Mega Sardines is exported to over thirty countries, and the brand is 15 years old. He continues to innovate his packaging, using cans with pull-up tabs and easy-to-open pouches which the DOST helped him develop. There are long off-seasons in fishing, so he has also ventured into other products like the Oh My Ulam brand for instance, and canned vegetables like mushrooms, corn and peas so he can still maximize his warehousing, distribution and sales staff. No resources wasted.

William has been fishing for 40 years, and he proudly says that Mega is now certified as the no.1 sardine brand in the Philippines. His big warehouse in Zamboanga is open to the public, he says, so they can see how his canning operations have evolved into the most modern and efficient in the country.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)