Building a Business at this Time of Pandemic

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Ilocos Longganisa are meaty with less fat. It got lots of garlic and blended with sukang Iloko. It is definitely an acquired taste for a non-Ilocano. Still, give it a try. What makes this longganisa a tummy and tastebud treat is that it requires more helpings of steamy cooked rice!

Many businesses were affected by the pandemic. Many have closed- permanently. But many new businesses have sprouted and succeeded. I intend for our new venture to be one of them.

I’ve always tried to look at the bright side of things. A lot of that outlook is due to my faith. This outlook has helped me through a lot of trying times. This Covid-19 pandemic is definitely the most trying of times. If you are weak, you will not just surrender to the virus but to the other challenges as well, such as forced confinement, lack of work, and lack of food. Even if you have money, going out is risky and many stores are closed.

Being able to work from home has forced me to think hard on what I need to do not only to survive this pandemic but to triumph over it as well. Staying at home have stirred my complacent brain cells and made me examine my life and my dreams.

Being Ilocanos, we normally treat our loneliness for our relatives by holding on to what we miss most in the North. One such treat is preparing and cooking authentic Ilocano dishes such as pinakbet, bagnet, empanada, longganisa and many more.

In the course of our culinary marathons during the pandemic, our family tried to discuss what to do to earn and survive. Over a plate of food, we decided to capitalize on what we do best- preparing Ilocano food. Our first consideration is finding a niche market.So we decided to market our Ilocos longganisa first since we do not know of anyone in the local market selling it.

The downside is that, most Cebuanos are partial to the sweet-flavored and "fatty" longganisa. Our product is anything but. It is meaty, with lots of garlic and blended with our famous Sukang Iloko. It is definitely an acquired taste for a non-Ilocano. But we decided to capitalize on the strength of our product- it is made with all natural ingredients, no artificial additives, no extenders, less fats, less sugar and loads of garlic. This makes it healthier than what is generally sold in the market. We also decided to project it as keto-friendly diet alternative as it is high in protein without the sugar and fats.

Our first foray into longganisa selling has gained a lot of reactions, some positive, some a little bit negative. Suggestions to add fats were taken into consideration, also with adding more sugar. But we cannot totally give in because we do not want to deviate so much from the original taste. So we performed the basic Math, a little “plus” here and a “minus” there until we came up with a taste which retains the Ilocano ummph but accommodating a little of the Cebuano palate’s preference. It is like me, an Ilocano amidst the Cebuanos of Mindanao.

At the start, we called our product, Vigan longganisa, patterned from the famous one in Ilocos. However, many mistake it as “Vegan” longganisa and is perceived to be meatless. I received messages ordering my “vegetable longganisa”. Others were also asking if I’m using vege-meat as my main ingredient. To erase the misconceptions, we quickly changed the name of our product to Authentic Ilocos Longganisa. Yes, I am stressing that "A" on the authentic.

Going into the food business is fun. We hear comments like: “Your longganisa is for Senior Citizens- because it is not sweet and has less fats”. Can we make one for milleneals (whatever it is)? Others ask us if its sour taste is normal or is it a sign of spoil? Still others don’t like our “durog” black pepper as they prefer the finely powderized one.

The negative comments and friendly suggestions made our product what it is now. The pandemic may have slowed us a little but the confinement gave us time to produce and innovate our product. And the power of online commerce made everything so easy. We source some of our ingredients and equipment online. Our main ingredient, the ground pork can be ordered through text the night before. Early the next day, voila!, our order is ready for pick up. Two months in the running, we are slowly building a loyal customer base and some networks. Logistics is our main problem because some orders come from afar and need to be delivered. Still, it’s a hurdle that we intend to overcome.

In his June 26 FB post, I am sharing here a colleague's food review on his take of our Ilocos Longganisa:

"We had this savory Ilocos Longganisa for dinner and I devoured two segments...and more helpings of rice later. The flavor, which is garlicky and sour-ish is a result of the right balance of minced garlic with homemade vinegar without compromising the taste of the ground pork meat. It transported me back during a work-related trip to Vigan with a former colleague in QC.

I didn't have trouble piercing the casing since it was firm and not loosely knotted. Longganisa is best in the morning paired with fried egg with a sweet sour atchara on the side. Just make sure you don't run out of rice."

Judging from his post, Vic seems to be happy and intends to order from us to try our other variants.

It is still too early to say that we have triumphed. But if there is one good thing that this pandemic has brought us- it is the fact that it gave us the push to go outside our comfort zone and start a business.

ATI Today

Extension services continue to evolve. With the challenges that extension workers and farmers face, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) continues to explore various strategies to improve its efforts as the extension and training arm of the Department of Agriculture. In over 30 years, the ATI has celebrated various successes and learned from the lessons during hard times. Nonetheless, we are proud to be standing the test of time through the support of our partners and the clientele themselves. This is the ATI Today, more committed to bring you extension services beyond boundaries.