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Sweet ride on bitter melon

A father and his son hit pay dirt creating food supplements for diabetics.
By Lumen P. Balboa |
<>Herbcare sold P2 million worth of Loose Bits in its first year. It wasn’t long before it started making other products including the Charantia tea bags and 500-gram capsules. Still, the Abelardes had started small. They recruited salesmen and pitched their first product to distribution outlets including drug stores, and in 2000 they appointed Ace Foods Inc. to distribute their products in the Visayas and Mindanao and Asset Marketing Corp. to sell them in Luzon, moves that made Charantia available in all Mercury Drug outlets and other drugstores and health shops nationwide.


Next, the Abelardes appointed distributors overseas to sell their products outside the Philippines. Indeed, in 2004 Herbcare signed exclusive dealerships with top marketing firms in the United States, Mexico, and South Korea, and it’s now looking to sign similar deals in Indonesia, South Africa, Japan, and Europe to tap some of the 150 million people worldwide afflicted with diabetes.



“Amazingly, we didn’t have a hard time introducing our product,” says Daniel. “We already had a captive market that knew what it wanted and was aware of what we were selling.” Indeed, the Abelardes recouped their initial investment when they grossed P2 million on their first year and registered sales of P16 million on their second year and P80 million and P130 million, respectively, on their third and fourth years. “Normally, the sales from food supplements were not reflected in drugstore sales, but business was so good in 2003 that these were finally reflected in their books, and most of those were Charantia’s,” says Daniel.


The booming sales have triggered the entry of new brands in the market—Amargozin, ABS Bitter Herbs, and most recently Ampalaya Plus—but Daniel believes Charantia has an edge over the others because it’s the only product in the market made wholly from bitter gourd. “The demand for our product is steadily increasing and we are only too happy to provide the supply,” says Daniel. “At least 10 percent of the people in the world have diabetes, and if we could sell our product to just 1 percent of those people, then we would be very happy in 2006.”




Bitter melon is rich in iron, \nbeta-carotene, potassium, and other nutrients that boost the immune system, and in recent years studies have shown that it lowers a person’s blood sugar. William Torres, former director of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, says the fruit “helps increase glucose tolerance.” A. Raman and C. Lau, of King’s College in London, say “oral administration of the fruit’s juice or seed powder causes a reduction in fasting blood glucose tolerance.”


Herbcare Corp’s Charantia food supplement—a name derived from bitter melon’s scientific name Momordica charantia Linn—is made wholly from dried ampalaya, and Herbcare Corp. general manager Daniel Abelarde says the company wants charantia to be the name that people all over the world associate with bitter melon. But he’s quick to add that Charantia is only a food supplement. “The product works so well that people are starting to substitute it for their medicine, which should not be the case,” he says, adding Herbcare has initiated an information campaign among diabetics to that end.



Herbcare has also partnered with the Department of Health and the Association of Municipal Health Officers of the Philippines to help increase awareness of diabetes and promote pharmaceutical care in the countryside. The municipal group comprises more than 1,500 health doctors running the government’s public health system, and it has officially endorsed Charantia as the official food supplement for diabetics—something Herbcare considers as an “unprecedented achievement.”

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