The town of Argao in Cebu, famous for picturesque beaches and scenic spots, is also the home of a 75-year old enterprise that is now building an ecosystem to sustain lives, livelihood and the environment.
Edgar and Efren Lanutan took over the family-owned tableya manufacturing business in 2008 after their parents retired from running the then micro enterprise, initiating a rebranding strategy to market the product as a world-class native chocolate brand.
After nearly 75 years in operations, Guilang Tableya is turning a new leaf with a new approach to sustainability, from sourcing of materials to processing and packaging.
“We have started a program where we invite people to plant cacao. We give the seedlings for free and when the trees bear fruits we buy back the cacao beans,” said Edgar, the younger of the two Lanutan brothers.
The initiative has become sort of a trading practice in the municipality wherein farmers come to trade or swap the dried cacao beans for tableya products or get paid in cash.
Joshua Lanutan, son of Edgar and a third generation chocolatier, said that while the business continues to expand, the issue of sustainability—the reliability of raw materials sourcing, good corporate practices and the effects to environment—become a conundrum for the enterprise and its owners to ponder on. And that ’s when the enterprise decided to put sustainability at the core of its operations.
He said the enterprise is confident it will continue to get a good load of cacao beans from Davao, but as demand accelerates, the need to have a secure source of beans prompted the enterprise to collaborate with local farmers on how to start increasing Argao’s cacao production.
“We plan on reducing our dependence on Davao-sourced beans. In the next 8 years we hope to, at least, increase the share of Argao cacao to 12 percent from the current 3 percent. Right now, we are still 97 percent dependent on Davao for our beans sourcing,” he said.
Guilang moves as much as 16 metric tons (MT) of cacao beans monthly from Davao. This much beans can process about 12 MT of tableya which are marketed locally and are also exported abroad to the US, China, Taiwan and indirectly to Australia.
The brand is available in two states in the US where there are thriving Filipino communities. The Lanutans export tableya directly to Pacific Island Supermarket that has 34 stores spread across California and Nevada.
The product is also visible in commercial quantities in stores in Fukien and Fujian, China. However, importers from Taiwan has a different use for Guilang Tableya.
“Out of more than 100 tableya makers in the Philippines, we were chosen to supply their chocolate requirement for pharmaceutical use. I believe they are producing skin care products using tableya,” Edgar said.
This weekend, the father and son tandem, is bound to Singapore and Thailand on prospects of new partnership, optimistic to land a contract or two.
The enterprise is looking forward to increasing its output to 15.6 MT of processed tableya to serve the increasing demand for native chocolate.
“Back in 1948, we used to produce about 80 kilos daily or about 2 metric tons of tableya monthly. From that we have increased our capacity to 12 metric tons monthly. We have also mechanized our operations by buying machineries from China. Our machines are similar to the machines used by Hershey Philippines,” Edgar said.
Sustainability in packaging is a novel practice that the enterprise is religiously observing. From using plastic as packaging material, the enterprise transitioned to using thick cardboard-like paper as its main material for packing the products. With the help of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) who linked the business to packaging experts from the University of the Philippines, Guilang Tableya is now sustainably packed in round paper cylinders, a seal of quality and sustainability.
Guilang Tableya is an iconic brand in Cebu from its origins in Argao and the influence of its pioneer owner, Manang Guilang, which was how Edgar’s mother, Nanay Miguela, was known in the community.
Edgar recounted how his parents and a tub of cacao beans become the native chocolate brand that is now famous in and out of the country.
“Back in those days, there were many tableya makers in our town. So my mother and father started innovating by experimenting on the temperature and speed of the roasting process. If you’re wondering why our chocolate has a slight smokey texture, it is because of the selected wooden chips we use to roast the beans,” he explained.
“I guess you can call them the first innovators, being ahead of their peers at a time when the word innovation and innovator are still unheard of,” he added.
The concept to improve the taste by using wooden chips came 3 years after the business started. The marked improvement in taste and texture outpaced other tableya makers in town.
Rebranding the brand came as novel idea when Edgar joined a training course at the DTI in late 2008. By 2009 the product has assumed the Guilang tableya brand.
Innovation is in the DNA of the owners of the business. This 2023, Guilang will be introducing a new product—a ready-to-drink (RTD) sikwate, the Cebuano term for chocolate drink—that will come in two flavors.
“What is unique to this product is that we will be using 100 percent tableya, when others are using cocoa powder. The first product will be ready-to-drink sikwate and the other is tableya-based soya drink which we think will be a good alternative to soft drinks and sugary juices,” Joshua explained.
He added that the enterprise is planning to proffer the new product to the Department of Education as alternative to sweetened beverages sold in public schools.
The research team composed of food technologists and experts from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are bound to conduct a final product test before the drink can be commercially offered to consumers. The product will be available in small packs and later on, maybe marketed in 1 liter packs.
Joshua revealed that the enterprise is also in the thick of preparations to introduce the brand’s very first chocolate bar, a project that has been in the works for sometime.
“We can actually produce the chocolate bar right now but we want to do things one step at a time. No rush to release the bar, yet. There will be a good time for this. Right now, we are focused on the RTD product,” he said.
As the business is poised to conquer new markets, the current owners are aware thattime will not always be on their side. In a reality check, both Edgar and Efren admitted that their time has been eroded by the years spent as stewards of the business.
“We are old but the business stays. And we have prepared for this. My son Joshua is the third generation steward and the fourth generation steward will be my grand daughter Maxinne, Joshua’s eldest daughter. I dare say they are both capable. I know for a fact that the legacy we are leaving behind will be in good hands,” Edgar said.
Joshua acknowledged how his father trained him to care for the business as he is now training his daughter to learn the ropes of being an entrepreneur. Both are hands-on entrepreneurs and are ready to scale up the business from small to a medium enterprise.