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Friday, July 26, 2024

Young entrepreneur dabbles into banana processing

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More millennials and Gen Zs aim to be the captain of their own ship as they see the value of entrepreneurship.

Community nurse-turned-entrepreneur Trexie Marie Tan shares the same awareness of entrepreneurial empowerment since starting her business at a young age.

While her story started from a rather amusing narrative, her passage as a full-pledged entrepreneur was neither hilarious nor comical. She actively juggled business and academic pursuits, which left her spent throughout the week.

“It’s a funny story to begin with. There was this one time when I really craved for banana chips and my Mom found three pieces of unripe saba [plantain] which she tried to cook into banana chips for me. We thought then, that, probably the remaining bananas that took time to get ripened were really meant to be banana chips,” she said.

That episode convinced her to set up a home-based enterprise for banana chips production. Incidentally, banana chips is one of her comfort snacks. She had just started her college education but still managed to stretch her time to help her parents operate their small sari-sari store in General Santos City.

Starting out a nano enterprise might seem a walk in the park to many, but for Tan, who was in the midst of her nursing degree, the extra effort to maintain the business could have placed her in a stressful predicament, if not for the encouragement of her supportive parents, who continue to assist her up to now.

The Philippines as a banana chip republic may have the most number of small enterprises that produce banana chips. This encouraged Tan to be a bit inventive and come up with a distinct product. A common trait of banana chips is its sweetness and crispness which is what Trexie’s Banana Chips is like, but what sets it apart is its smooth, almost flawless-like texture.

Unlike regular banana chips, Trexie’s Banana Chips removes the portion of bananas embellished with black, pin-prick seeds during the production process.

“So we take out the part with seeds. We slice the banana by sections, leaving the part with seeds. The end product looks more like a potato chip, which is the look we want to achieve for our banana chips,” Tan said, adding that the product, after a few innovations, is now available in different flavors—original, no sugar, barbecue, cheese and sour cream.

Sustainability

Tan said discarding the banana core is such a waste of good food considering it is also edible. Instead of throwing away the part with seeds, she instead, tried her hand at innovating by drying the “waste part” to create what she calls “green banana flour”.

“As our business matures, we have also bookmarked several observations from our decade long of producing this product. This is why we have a new mantra on zero waste production. We want to be a sustainable and responsible manufacturer of quality, yet healthy products,” she said.

Next to almond flour, banana is another healthy alternative to regular flour. While a kilogram of banana flour may cost about P400, it is way more affordable than almond flour which retails at P1,000/kg. However, compared to regular or wheat flour, banana flour is a bit pricey.

During the 2023 International Food Exhibition Philippines on May 26 to 28, Tan said several manufacturers expressed interest to try using banana flour. There were even proposals for some bakers to try using banana flour as supplement to regular flour.

The IFEX stint informally connected Trexie’s with a major polvoron manufacturer. There is also a proposal from the government to engage Trexie’s in a product development to use banana flour for a trial production of nutribun—a proposed feeding program for grade-school children in public schools.

Trexie’s packaging has evolved with time. From the traditional clear plastic pouch packaging, it is now using stand-up resealable pouches which are more sustainable as it also extends the shelf life of the product up to 18 months.

Community nurse-turned-entrepreneur Trexie Marie Tan

Accolades

Starting her banana chips business when she was about 16 years old, Tan was chosen as one of the recipients of the Most Promising Young Entrepreneur award in Region 12. This boosted her confidence to continue her business despite the challenges.

Her green banana flour experiment added another notable citation as she won the Young Farmers Challenge in 2022—a program of the Department of Agriculture that seeks to engage young people to invest time and talent into agri-related pursuits.

She said the awards she received opened another window for her as an inspirational speaker.

“I never imagined myself as a resource speaker. However, I get invited to events where I am encouraged to tell my story, hoping that more young people will be enlightened to also try entrepreneurship,” she said.

Toll operations

In 2020, a start-up manufacturing company approached Tan to offer toll packing opportunities. The contract calls for Trexie’s to manufacture banana chips for the company under a different brand name. The product is mostly for export to the US and Australia.

“Our partner has a lot of things they want us to engage in. There are products in the pipeline we are still sorting out with them on top of being their source of banana chips,” Tan said.

Trexie’s was able to fulfill its first container van of toll-packed banana chips with the help of seven full-time workers. On days when demand is dull, or when production is to satisfy local demand, Tan said they can only hire four workers.

“I thought that after that first container van, we will be in a better position, financially. It was then that I realized it takes more than just a container van of banana chips to realize our dream to be a major supplier and producer of banana chips. We still need to trek that long road to get to where we want us to be,” Tan said.

Trexie’s produces about 40,000 packs of banana chips a month, which is just about the capacity of a nano enterprise. The product is marketed in a 60-gram ziplock stand-up pouch, smaller in terms of volume compared to the toll-packed units which is 100 grams per pack.

She said production constraints limited its distribution channels within the boundaries of General Santos City. Although there is a separate facility for production, packaging and storage, lack of financial resources kept operations at the minimum. 

With constant assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry, Trexie’s became one of the micro enterprises eligible for a P2.5-million grant under the RAPID Growth program. The grant, Tan said, will be used to expand their processing and production area with a nook dedicated for product development.

Through RAPID Growth program, DTI Region 12 successfully linked Trexie’s with a sustainable plantain supplier through a group of banana planters from Sarangani province.

Trexie’s uses bananas of specific size and maturity, which can only be fulfilled by Saranggani banana farmers.

Restocafe

From banana chips and flour, Tan expanded her business into a physical store where she sells her products alongside other “pasalubong” items produced in GenSan and from other areas in Region 12.

“This is actually one of our goals—to have physical presence since our online presence is not as ideal as we want it to be. We are in major online platforms like Lazada and Shopee, but since our product is perishable and can be easily damaged, we are content, for now, to focus on selling through Trexie’s Pasalubong Shop and RestoCafe,” she said.

The restaurant carries the concept of a “modern carinderia” where there is a daily menu of dishes. With the help of her mom, Tan learned to cook “lutong bahay” recipes like menudo, dinuguan and other popular “carinderia” fares. The restocafe also serves coffee and snacks.

Tan said she and her husband are open to the idea of franchising as a way to expand their restocafe concept in the next two to three years. The newly-wed couple tied the knot in December 2022.

Aside from banana chips and flour, Trexie’s is also producing sweet and salted peanuts. There is also a standing offer from the World of Peanuts—an online shop in malls that sells an assortment of nut preparations from local peanuts to imported nuts for a supply agreement with Trexie’s.

Trexie’s is also into product innovation on other crops like sweet potato, taro and cassava, while hoping to get the RAPID Growth grant from the DTI, as soon as possible so it can expand its manufacturing area to optimize operations.

“We also want our brand to reach foreign shores. Exportation is also part of our plan, particularly for our banana chips. This grant that we are excitedly waiting for will help up improve our operations. Right now, our baby is this business,” she said.

“We want to focus on establishing a stable enterprise not only for ourselves. The people who are part of the entire process from the sourcing of raw materials to the finished product are the people will always be part of our success story. We also want them to be able to provide for their family or maybe invest in a home,” Tan said.

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