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Going local

Couple turns to traditional native fare to take on foreign coffee brands.
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With the influx of foreign made coffee making waves in local markets, one café chain has gone against the grain and has seen the wisdom of putting up a shop that features traditional Filipino fare.

Tsoko.Nut Batirol is a five-year old native hot tsokolate (chocolate) shop which has five branches spread across Metro Manila and is run by the husband and wife team of James and Marian SyCip. For the couple, who had long itched for a coffee shop that would remind them of their traditional childhood treats, setting up the store was a no brainer.

“One day, when my husband and I were in a western coffee shop, we realized that it was sad that there’s already a large market of coffee shops in the Philippines but not one of them has actually catered to the Filipino taste. It was also surprising that there were only the two of us and for only a few products we already consumed P800 worth of coffee in a day,” Marian said.

A THIRST FOR LOCAL TREATS

Coming in and out of different coffee shops for some time, the couple realized that they can start a market for a local product that will match the taste buds of Filipinos right out of their grandmother’s recipes. So instead of a coffee shop, their family came up with a nostalgic theme of local hot chocolate shop with tsokolate de batirol (hand mixed chocolate) as their main product.

“I remember when I was younger, my grandmother used to make us hot chocolates with tablea and batirol. It was so good that when I was in that coffee shop, feeling dissatisfied of the products which my husband and I consumed, I suddenly missed those hot chocolate afternoons,” said Mrs. SyCip.

In early 2005, the SyCips simultaneously opened two Tsoko.Nut Batirol branches in SM Makati and Manila. The couple banked on their business philosophy of conducting and using research to fine tune their product offerings.

DOING IT THE HARD WAY

“A lot of my colleagues and friends have been telling us bakit daw namen pinahihirapan ang sarili naming ng paggamit ng Tablea (why were we giving ourselves a hard time by using unprocessed chocolate blocks) and natural ingredients in mixing our beverages. We can use naman daw powedered products for our iced tea, coffee, and chocolate drinks. But you know we feel that by doing so, we give the best services and products to our customers,” she said.

Since Tsokonut.nut Batirol’s main product is their Hot Tsokolate de Batirol that is made out of the local chocolate called the Tablea, Marian closely studied to local chocolate variants by going around the provinces to discover the best Tablea in the country.

“While we were certain of the market, we weren’t certain of the tablea quality. So I really went out and researched on Tablea and Batirol. I reached Batangas, Davao, Bicol, Tarlac and Leyte and it was Leyte that produces the best,” she shared.

Indeed, the company currently supports an entire community in Leyte that supplies the tablea for exclusive use in their restaurants.

STARTUP BLUES

After presenting the business plan for Tsoko.Nut Batirol to the SM group, Marian received not just the company’s approval but also the blessing of noted entrepreneur and SM patriarch Henry Sy. The company shelled out P3 million to foot the construction and open the first branches. Marian’s initial experience in running both stores gave her valuable insight into the kind of market their company serves.

“In SM Makati, I have the corporate market and the call centers who are coffee drinkers. They are the ones who patronize the ambience that coffee shops usually have so SM Makati was a success. But SM Manila was our first failure because even though the foot traffic was large, the environment was not appropriate for the business,” she said.

After three months of poor sales, Marian bit the bullet and pulled the plug on their SM Manila branch after losing about P200,000 and their security deposit in the process.

“I had to stop the operation in SM Manila because you have to learn that as a business person, you’re like a warrior in battle. You have to learn when to stop fighting because when you start bleeding you cannot go all the way and bleed to death. I cannot bleed to death. So that was really Tsoko.Nut’s initial trials for survival. Apart from that, after some time, I realized that globalization was one of our prime enemies,” she shared.

After half a decade of operations, Tsoko.Nut Batirol has increasingly turned to Internet marketing, press releases, and several promotions from a local channel in order to pitch their products. Aside from its Filipino inspired delicacies, it has now incorporated new products such as ice cold juices and slushes. A sixth branch is currently in the pipeline, and the company plans to further expand this year and beyond.

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