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The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017 has concluded its search for the country’s most inspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. In the next few weeks, BusinessWorld will feature each finalist for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017

Rommel Juan
Binalot Fiesta Foods, Inc.

ROMMEL Juan, 45, recalls how his father would encourage his children to go into business.

In college, he tried his hand at various entrepreneurial pursuits, such as selling t-shirts and a printing business.

This early knowledge and experience would prove invaluable when he established Binalot Fiesta Foods, Inc., now a leading Filipino fastfood restaurant and franchiser.

Mr. Juan is a Marketing Management graduate of the De La Salle University and holds a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management.

He came up with the concept of Binalot from childhood memories. “Our mom would pack our food, wrapped in banana leaves and when you open it, there would be rice, adobo, salted eggs and tomatoes. We really enjoyed it as kids, so that’s what I wanted to do,” he recounts.

With just P50,000 as capital, he started a “guerilla operation” out of a rented apartment in Makati City. He and his partners distributed flyers to generate awareness of their food delivery service. After receiving orders, they would prepare the meals and then deliver them to nearby offices. After their initial success, he expanded operations by opening their first commercial store along Jupiter Street in Makati.

However, the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997. Sales started to decrease and they were in danger of closing the business.

It was then that they were given an opportunity to open an outlet at the Shangri-La Plaza fastfood court. For Mr. Juan, this was a defining moment, “If it works, we would continue; if it doesn’t, then we’ll close it down,” he narrates.

Fortunately, Binalot proved to be popular to mall goers. The success of this branch encouraged them to eventually diversify into a larger, dine-in fastfood restaurant format, opening branches in other malls. In 2004, they further strengthened the brand through franchising.

Mr. Juan describes Binalot as a food chain that merges the modern fastfood restaurant with traditional Filipino favorites. Their signature product is classic Filipino comfort food wrapped in banana leaves instead of Styrofoam packs.

This is what differentiates them from competitors. Binalot promotes the traditional way of enjoying Filipino food and uses environmentally friendly materials.

While Binalot has carved its niche in the fastfood industry, Mr. Juan has encountered stiff competition in the food industry.

“There will always be the big players and new players coming in,” he said.

Binalot’s customers include the office workers and young professionals, as well as diners who look for convenience and affordability.

Mr. Juan learned that in business he has to have the “3 Os”; the originator, the operator and the organizer. He is the originator because he came up with the vision. He also has the right managers to make sure that stores are run well.

Binalot prides itself with its corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. Typhoon Milenyo, which struck in September 2006, left a severe shortage of banana leaves in Luzon. Forced to look elsewhere in the country for a reliable supply of banana leaves, even in inclement weather, the Binalot team came up with the idea of going straight to communities in Laguna.

After better understanding of the needs of the local community, Mr. Juan decided to set up the Dangal at Hanapbuhay para sa Nayon (DAHON) program to empower the community and give a sustainable livelihood, while addressing his production needs and strengthening his supply chain.

“When there are crises there are opportunities. The Asian Crisis brought us into the malls and with Milenyo, we were able to establish our CSR program,” Mr. Juan said.

For its DAHON CSR program, Binalot has received numerous awards such as the Centennial Prize in the worldwide 2007 UPS Out-of-the-Box Small Business Contest of the United Parcel Service (UPS) and a Green Apple Environment Award from London-based Green Organization. Binalot also received the Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (AFCSR) award for Best Corporate Social Responsibility Program in 2010, the Intel-Asian Institute of Management Corporate Responsibility Award in Malaysia in 2010 and a Special Citation for Corporate Social Responsibility from Entrepreneur Magazine in 2011.

Mr. Juan strengthened the company by investing in a commissary that produces existing Binalot meal favorites for all the stores.

In the next few years, Mr. Juan will look into new ways of using banana leaves as it is eco-friendly and biodegradable. He also wants to introduce other complementary brands under Binalot Fiesta Foods, Inc.

Mr. Juan says that his father has been his greatest inspiration who taught him the values he holds today.

“I have learned that in business you have to be fast and decisive. You don’t always have to wait for the perfect time,” he said.

“You also have to learn how to get others to help you, because you can’t do everything yourself.”

The official airline of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2017 is Philippine Airlines.

Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel.

Banquet sponsors are Bench; Bounty Fresh Food, Inc.; CDO Foodsphere; Fiori Di Marghi; First Metro Investment Corp.; Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc.; Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc.; Intermed Marketing Phils., Inc.; Jollibee Foods Corp.; LBC; SteelAsia and Universal Harvester, Inc.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017 will be announced in an Oct. 18 awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La hotel.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2018.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young.

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