An OFW finds business in sardines
Leaving a good job in Brunei, Mike Cases bottled sardines in his hometown and let Filipinos--even those abroad--enjoy quality comfort food
By: Marjorie Ann Duterte | Aug 02, 2012 18:00 pm
In 1994 Mike Cases brought his wife to Brunei, where the Sultan paid him US$3,000 a month to preside over the construction of Jerudong Theme Park, the sultanate’s version of Disneyland. Unlike most contract workers abroad, Mike, an engineer, and his wife, Aliw, had everything: free accommodation, electricity, water, and even utensils. They had the time of their lives in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital. Yet something was missing, and four years later Mike persuaded his wife to return to Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte, his hometown, to start his own business. “Kinailangan ko nang gawin ‘yung trabaho na gusto ko doon sa lugar ko,” he says.
On their return in 1998, Mike sold some of their properties and, with his savings, raised P1.5 million to start bottling sardines, taking advantage of Dipolog’s growing reputation as the Philippines’ top sardines producer. The next year, he incorporated Tito Mike’s Food Company, a name suggested by a six-year-old nephew, with his wife and three brothers as partners. He bought equipment and raw materials, and then set up a production facility in his parents’ backyard.
He met his first client by chance on a U.S. trip while looking for kitchenware, unaware that the pressure cookers he needed were being sold in Quiapo, Manila, at bargain prices. Indeed, his visits to the Oriental stores in the East Coast allowed him to meet a distributor, a Vietnamese-American who offered to buy his sardines to supply those stores. “Maraming Filipinos abroad ang gustong kumain ng pagkain natin dito,” he says.
He first shipped out 100 24-bottle boxes, pricing his sardines at P42 a bottle here and P45 abroad. He then signed up more exporters and foreign buyers after joining the trade fairs of the Department of Trade and Industry, and in May, he shipped 500 boxes of bottled sardines to Vancouver and Toronto and 300 boxes to California.