Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Liesbeth in the Philippines: project visit UMFI

On my next day in the Philippines Joyce, Andie and I fortunately left a bit later for the project visit, because we went to a nearby project partner in Manila, called Upland Marketing Foundation Inc. (UMFI). UMFI is a non-profit fair trade marketing institution for community based enterprises. UMFI is the marketing arm of 60 of these enterprises operating in 17 provinces across the Philippines. Products they market are among others coffee, Muscovado sugar, organic rice, jams, wine, vinegar, oil, honey, etc.

Photo: Staff representatives of UMFI and I in the warehouse in Manila

I visited the warehouse in Manila and met with the organization’s CEO Ruben Evangelista and Sales & Marketing Manager Mel Fonollera. In the warehouse the products are stored and sometimes even re-packaged (see photo) before distributed to the supermarkets in Manila where the products are sold.

Photo: UMFI employees sorting and re-packaging the rice in their warehouse.

It was very clear to me this organization has a strong social focus and is very committed to serving the communities they work with. This was also visible from the plans they have for the coming years. Beside stheir current products, they want to focus on cocosugar, dairy and other naturally processed fruits and vegetables. They stressed that they aim on these sectors because they want to support families in their major sources of income. UMFI also plans to develop new product lines (in cooperation with its R&D department) within value chains it is currently involved in. An example of this is Muscafe, which is an instant coffee product they produce. The sugar that is used in this coffee is based on the Muscovado sugar that UMFI already markets. Other plans for the future are related to working with export markets, and acquiring an organic certification. In the afternoon we went to a supermarket where the products of UMFI are sold. Here the CEO showed us how the products were displayed. He showed us a shelf which was almost empty, namely the one of the Muscovado sugar. Having a regular supply of sugar from their producers is very difficult and a challenge for the organization. As a result the sales fall behind, and profitability might be at risk.

Photo: CEO Mr. Ruben Evangelista in the supermarket where the UMFI products are sold.

Overall, it was interesting to see an organization at this point in the value chain and the important role they hold for the communities and families they support. However, it revealed also to me that it is quite difficult to be a marketing company with a social focus in the Philippine context and to do well at the same time. At around 5 o’clock we were back at the office and I left to my hotel, to prepare for the next two days in which I would provide training to my Philippino colleagues on how to write good project proposals. And as we say, good preparation is half the battle!

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