Richard Sanz: The Emperor of Iced Tea and Bibingka

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Young entrepreneur Richard Sanz started out with nothing but a business concept and his gut feel. Going by personal instinct and intuition has been considered too risky by many business people. In Richard’s case, it has proven him right in the long run, because he now rules one of the most successful food businesses in the country.

He started his venture in 2004. “I was 23 years old when I resigned from my engineering job in a multinational firm. It was a risky decision as I had a family to provide for, but I went ahead because I was young and excited to have my own business.” He remembers  his mother making iced tea from tea leaves and water. With that dearly-held childhood memory, Sanz collected Php120,000 worth of capital from personal loans and created  Tea Square, the Philippines’ first specialty iced tea brand.The first Tea Square branch was opened at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City.

“We are confident that through focused development and brand-building, we can get a respectable market share in three to five years,” he shares. Despite the fact that most food businesses rely on the tried-and-tested iced tea prepared from powder, Richard Sanz has successfully popularized a line of all-natural tea beverages. Food Asia Corporation, his company, currently has four brands and 80 retail outlets nationwide, and has experienced revenue growth of over 1,000 percent during the past years.

“My target was the upscale, health-conscious AB market. Since I had a low budget, I developed my own products based on what I felt the market would enjoy. I also designed the cart, and learned how to use Adobe Photoshop to create my company’s logo and marketing materials. The entire setup took two weeks,” Richard narrates.

“Since I only had one employee, I did all the marketing, accounting, and other tasks myself. But it made me so proud to see people frequenting the store–between 50 to 100 customers came each day, probably out of curiosity. The good thing, though, is we were able to translate that curiosity into continuous sales.”

One way to ensure business success is to to educate the public about one’s products. Richarddid taste tests and set up in-mall posters informing the consumer of tea’s health benefits, such as boosting one’s immune system, preventing cancer, and reducing high blood pressure. He also had the creative idea to use ‘LoyalTea’ cardsto attract more customers. Richard believes in excellent customer service. To show his dedication in satisfying customer demand, he printed his personal cellular phone number on all packaging materials. If that isn’t engaging with your market on a very personal, down-to-earth manner, we don’t know what is.

Tea Square has grown to twenty branches nationwide. “I was able to recover my initial investment in only six months and repay my loans within a year,”Sanz proudly says.

In 2006, not wanting to rest on his laurels, Sanz sought to venture into the bibingka business. His idea is so simple and yet quite effective. “My family likes eating bibingka, but sometimes, we can’t finish a whole serving. So I thought of making smaller portions.” He called it as Bibingkinitan!, a combination of‘bibingka’ with ‘balingkinitan’, which means small or petite in Filipino.

At Php20 per piece, Bibingkinitan! rice-flour cakes are accessible to the mass-based broad C market. It has classic and flavored variants of the classic bibingka recipe, including chocolate, cream cheese, and macapuno.The mini-bibingkas sold like hotcakes. According to Richard, “Bibingkinitan! is the country’s leading bibingka chain today in terms of revenue and store number. It’s also our bestselling brand. We now have over 60 Bibingkinitan! branches.”

One would think that another business success would leave an entrepreneur to settle down, but not Richard, who seems to be quite a natural in handling a business venture. One year after Bibingkinitan!’s launch, he opened another upscale outlet called Bibingka Cafe at the Alabang Town Center in December 2007. Its menu consists of  bibingka ala mode, champorado, salabat, tsokolate,and barako coffee, all classic Filipino comfort food and beverages,offered at very affordable prices. Not to be stopped, he opens three more branchesin 2008 at SM North EDSA, SM Clark, and SM Mall of Asia.

To further grow his flourishing business empire, Richardcreated another business division. Calling it Fresh-Foods, its first product offerings are ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook frozen foods, like Stuffees stuffed bread and tilapia ala pobre, as well as fresh poultry produce, like fresh white eggs, red duck eggs, and fresh chicken.

SM Supermarket was impressed with the company’s products and marketing efforts, and offered the opportunity for Richard to develop a brand of consumer food products for the broad C market. These products are now being distributed in major SM supermarkets and hypermarkets nationwide.

Richard notes that FreshFoods’s competition is much more formidable than those of their retail brands, but he remains confident about it. “We are confident that through focused development and brand-building, we can get a respectable market share in three to five years.”

FoodAsia presently has a workforce of almost 100 employees and occupies a 100square meter office in Muntinlupa City. Both Tea Square and Bibingkinitan! have begun franchising, with its combined 20 franchised outlets comprising roughly 25 percent of the current total stores. “We want to establish a presence in all towns in the Philippines,” Sanz says.

In today’s globally-oriented world, an entrepreneur should be able to think in more global perspective. “Innovation is part of our strategy. The product itself is an innovation because we changed the landscape for bibingka. I want to make Bibingkinitan a global brand. All the other food from other countries like Italy, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand are available locally but we have to establish distribution of Filipino food abroad. My dream is to make this Philippine delicacy known globally through Bibingkinitan. We have inquiries in Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong today. Hopefully it’s a first step,” the founder of the country’s first bibingka empire says.

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