By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

NORTH STAR Meat Merchants, Inc. said it considers keeping its products affordable to the public as its main management challenge in 2022 ahead of plans to expand production and a focus on sustainable power to mitigate rising costs and the carbon footprint of livestock raising.

“This year is unique as we will be focusing on efficiencies and what we can improve in our current operations. We are very much anchored to the growth of our clients,” North Star Chief Executive Officer Anthony Ng said in a virtual interview.

“The challenge is how North Star can make our products available to our consumers. If we look at demand, it will always be there. The only challenge we have is keeping the prices affordable to everyone, that’s the biggest challenge of this year,” he added.

In January, North Star announced that it tapped WEnergy Power Pilipinas, Inc. to provide a solar rooftop system for its cold storage complex in Bulacan.

“A few months back, we did not anticipate the energy shortages. We’ve shifted our sights to that facility and not just about how we sell the product, but about how we procure it, how we store it in our cold storage facilities, and how we deliver it to the stores,” Mr. Ng said.

“We store our meat in a fashion where we are also concerned with the environment and the planet. Obviously, raising pigs and cattle has a carbon footprint, so in our small gesture we want to be able to contribute to preserving the environment,” he added.

In December, North Star announced plans to put up distribution hubs in Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Coron.

“We are located in several areas; however, Iloilo is something we’re looking at very closely. It will become the center for everything from Luzon, Bacolod, and Cebu, which is great for logistics. We’re looking at our possibilities in Iloilo,” Mr. Ng said.

“We will be looking at different locations again in Palawan, which is a strategic investment. Tourism is getting back on its feet there, and we see Palawan outgrowing Boracay in terms of tourism,” he added.

Mr. Ng said the company also recently signed a partnership with Gawad Kalinga.

“We are developing a meat concession for the Gawad Kalinga communities by using their production, then adapting it (to our) processes. We bring it back to them in a prepackaged frozen form for retail and long- and short-term storage,” he said.

With the outbreak of African Swine Fever, North Star is working with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to support affected hog farmers.

“The virus currently has no commercial vaccine yet, so until that happens you will have a supply and demand issue. We will be there to directly buy from them, cutting out the middle man in the process. That in turn should give us better pricing. But (right now), generally farmers are enjoying a relatively good price,” Mr. Ng said.

“Our expertise is the logistics part of operating the meat concessions. But the way we can help is provide farmers the venue to sell, especially the smaller ones by cooperating with the DA,” he added.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Ng said the industry must brace itself for the impact of volatile commodity prices.

“We will be expecting our food prices to rise going forward for sure. Cost of production is going to be high and that will reflect in a few months from the purchases of the establishments and traders, as well as in feed inputs, transportation logistics, and the like,” he said.

He added that cooperation between the government, industry, and the private sector is necessary for the sector to recover from the crisis.

Mr. Ng said he hopes the next administration will further invest and focus on innovation in the livestock industry.

“What we can do as of now is to supplement or augment local production with our efficiencies, and use our scale to give them properly priced meat products. That will really be our solution, especially if you’re coming out of a pandemic as the average Filipino has lost a lot of (purchasing power). We want to provide each and every Filipino clean, safe, and most of all affordable products right now,” he added.