Bernardo M. Villegas
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Pili Nuts Covered With Chocolate

           As millions of Overseas Filipino Workers as well as other Filipinos who travel to many foreign destinations have experienced, the most appreciated gift or “pasalubong” to foreigners from the Philippines is the dried mango, especially from Cebu.  Recently, a more sophisticated (and more pricey) version is the chocolate-covered dried mango that sells for as much as US $20 a box in duty free shops.  Thanks to a 21-year old female entrepreneur from Bicol by the name of Marie Frances Marinay, in no time at all the lowly pili nut that grows abundantly in the Bicol area can give dried mangoes a run for their money.  In fact, this fledgling product can aspire to compete with chocolate-coated macadamia nuts that have been popularised by the Hawaiians.  Pili nuts have a more distinctive pleasant taste than the bland macadamia.  Combine pili with chocolate and you have a new international sensation that can revolutionise the pili industry in the economically depressed region of Bicol.  The pili tree is more resistant to typhoons than coconut which has been the traditional crop in Bicol.

          Ms. Marinay is a graduate of the twenty-five-year-old Entrepreneurial Management Program of the University of Asia and the Pacific.  Under the guidance of a battery of experienced executives who act as mentors to the UA&P undergraduate students, she started as a freshman student to develop her own creations of pili nuts with chocolate treats.  Her objective was to elevate the nut’s status and flavour profile in the nut industry.  As a Bicolana, she observed that most of the pili nut products sold in the domestic market are subpar and very ordinary compared to hazelnuts and macadamia nuts sold overseas.  With the help of her New Business Ventures (NBV) mentors, in her second year of undergraduate work, she created the Pilaui’s trademark product—the Pilaui Bon Bon—which was her personal take on the famous chocolate candy with nuts inside and out.  According to her, it was Ms. Anna Roman of Pegi Waffles and the late Brendan Yu of Jollibee who pushed her creativity and imagination to continuously improve, develop and add more to the product line.

          Within a year of starting the business while she was still a student at UA&P, Pilaui (which means “pili nut” in archaic Bicolano) began to sell in trade fairs and bazaars in Manila and the Bicol area.  Pretty soon, it reached customers all the way to the U.S., U.A.E., Finland and New Zealand.   The product caught the attention of SpeedRegalo.com.ph which started to offer Pilaui candies in their online gift shop.  Ms. Marinay successfully completed the requirements for a BSc in Entrepreneurial Management, which included the condition that the business started in the second year must already be making a profit before graduation.  Since 1989, there have been hundreds of small enterprises that have taken off after gestation in the EM Program of UA&P (the first undergraduate program in Southeast Asia to develop young entrepreneurs).  For parents and high school students interested in the EM Program, information can be found in the website www.uap.asia.

          After graduating from UA&P, Ms. Marinay started to make a difference in the Bicol area by purchasing pili nuts from small farmers, processing them into chocolate-covered candies and selling them to retailers in the Bicol region whose market is big enough for her still limited production.  I would not be surprised if a large confectionery enterprise will be interested in partnering with her in significantly increasing the volume of production and organising Pili farmers into cooperatives so that they can increase the production of this nut which at the moment is still a cottage enterprise.  Last October 2 to 5, 2014, the products of the Pilaui Food Enterprises were displayed at the Orgullo Kan Bicol Trade Fair in SM Megamall.  Those who missed the Fair may log on to www.facebook.com/Pilaui or www.twitter.com/PialluiOfBicol.   The email of the enterprise is pilaui@yahoo.com and celfone numbers are 0927 242 4066 or 0946 677 7898.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.