After receiving assistance from DOST in the form of a P448,000 grant for equipment upgrade plus training and consultancy, the staff of Davao-based Apo ni Lola, makers of mostly durian-based goodies and ice cream, have something to smile about.

SETUP helps Apo ni Lola become the Mother of Food Tourism 1

“We expand our market every year. I can say we have a 100% increase in sales,” enthused Store Supervisor Imee Marie S. Añabesa. When before they only had a few vans bringing tourists to their store, now they welcome 14-16 buses of tourists every day.

“If not for these equipment, maybe we would remain as that traditional durian candy factory,” Imee added.

The equipment she is referring to are the Band Sealer and Coding Machine for packaging which they acquired through the grant. According to Imee, the Coding Machine, used for putting the expiration dates on the packages, is a lot better than the old stamp pads because the dates cannot be erased or tampered.

All in all, these DOST interventions have contributed to product safety, productivity and efficiency. Their packaging process is now faster, allowing them to churn out 70-80 production batches a day. One batch is equivalent to one tray of packed goodies which is equivalent to 24 large packs. Previously, they only came up with about 20 production batches in a day.

Satisfied employees

To make sure they keep pace with customer demand, Apo ni Lola now has 30 people in its employ, as compared to the five workers they used to have – the fifth one being the owner himself, Arnel Raakin who is actually the “apo ni lola” being alluded to in the business name (His grandmother, Abondia del Puerto Raakin or Lola Abon, started making traditional pastillas in the 1950s. Later, she turned her sights on durian candy making).

One of the employees is May Ann Gutierrez, who has been part of the production crew for the past eight years. “As Apo ni Lola grew, our salaries grew as well,” she related to S&T Post.

Because of the blessings, she can now afford to send her 10-year-old daughter Althea May to a private school. “I really work hard for Althea,” she said. At Apo ni Lola, not only does she work hard for her and her family’s future; she gets rewarded for her industry as well. Aside from being able to provide Althea May with a better education, mother and daughter also get to shop more often now, giving them more opportunities for bonding. Their usual jaunt: SM Lanang and Abreeza Mall in Davao City, where else?

Food tourism in Davao

The store is also expanding. “Right now, construction is progressing. So by the time [DOST] gives us the [next] training, we hope that everything is set. Our learning will then be hands-on because training will take place right here in our workplace,” Imee stated. Previously, trainings were conducted at the DOST office.

These interventions and developments augur well for the future of Apo ni Lola especially in connection with their goal to become the pioneer in SME food tourism in Davao.

Imee explained, “SME food tourism is about the entire experience of visiting a food processing plant wherein you just don’t get to buy the products; you also have the experience of seeing the production area.”

Inside the store is a viewing hall where visitors and buyers can watch how they make the products. While outside, Apo ni Lola easily beckons to both locals and tourists with a large, picture-pretty durian model for photo-ops – truly a fitting come-on for the treats that await them inside.

“What we want to give them is more than the candies, but the entire experience of having them here in Davao, hence our tagline ‘Completes your Davao experience,’” said Imee.

Written by S&T Media Service