Daniel Abelarde becomes intense when the subject of the competition crops up. “We’ll continue to be the dominant player,” says the general manager of Herbcare Corp., the first Filipino company to “mainstream” herbal products—loose bits, tea bags, and capsules—under the trade name “Charantia.” Five years after he and his father, Lito Abelarde, put up Herbcare for less then a million pesos, the company has become a multimillion-peso concern and is doing business here and abroad.
Daniel and Lito had been trading in commodities before they decided to put up Herbcare. ‘We were traveling a lot, and in most of our trips my father’s diabetic friends were always asking us to buy them dried ampalaya (bitter melon) for pasalubong,” recalls Daniel, a graduate of applied physics from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños and a scuba diving instructor. “We had so many requests that we got curious, and that was when we found out that there were hundreds of studies on the Internet claiming therapeutic benefits from ampalaya.”
They soon figured out that there might be a market for ampalaya herbal products considering the number of diabetics in the Philippines—about three million now, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute—so they buckled down to work.
Indeed, they discovered that the health department had long been promoting herbal medicines including bitter melon to manage diabetes, so in 1999, with less than P1 million, father and son put up Abenter Resource Marketing Corp. and scoured stores here and abroad for the equipment they could use to produce Charantia Ampalaya Loose Bits, which they launched in January 2000. They had only five full-time employees: a driver, an accountant, a salesman, and two production people. Two years later, they opened the Herbcare Center in Las Piñas City that now houses their offices, processing plant, and warehouse. And in April 2002 Abenter became Herbcare Corp., which now counts 60 full-time employees.
Father and son developed the Charantia loose bits, Herbcare’s first product, mostly through research on the Internet. They visited factories in China and Taiwan to observe how the product was made, and then put up a six-hectare farm in Los Baños, Laguna, to grow bitter melon. “Around 10 percent of product development was trial and error, and mostly to improve the product’s taste and color and not its efficacy, which had already been established,” says Daniel.