With the rise of unique restaurants, bizarre‑themed cafes, and food parks, the “instagrammable”, ultra‑cool crossbreeds are now competing against sweet traditional staple dishes. Consumers are harder to please these days, and those entering the food business are challenged to think out of the box.

Now, Fly Ace Corp.—a distributor of food and beverage products like canned mushrooms, canned corn kernels, canned peas, canned fruits, and canned soup through the Jolly Food Line—has an annual project called Jolly University, a pop‑up educational advocacy program.

“Our target market for the food line is basically moms,” Jolly’s associate product manager Ralph Rebulanan said. “But we want to invest in the next generation. The next industry leaders are students.”

And the company is certainly putting money where their mouth is. Last March, Fly Ace held its biggest run (its fourth) of Jolly University, gathering 1,200 students from all over Luzon. They participated in a boot camp, congress and a grand cook‑off.

Winners Jolly University

Art Erka Capili Inciong

To host thousands of students, on top of handing out prizes to winners, certainly costs a lot of money. But aside from the product exposure, the company will also benefit from the “competitiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship skills” of the participants in the long term, who eventually will contribute to the economy when they become chefs and restaurateurs themselves.

Jolly University became a venue for the young ones to rub elbows with industry top guns like Leo de Leon, whose company Allegro Beverage provides coffee solutions to establishments like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf; Liza Morales, the head of school operations at CCA Manila; and Karla Reyes, whose brainchild, the “cheese buffet catering” company La Petite Fromagerie, has been getting extremely popular.

“To have someone mentor you takes a lot of resources,” Mr. Rebulanan said. “We really put an effort to let students have personal encounters with key people that would help them in their field.” He added that the mentorship doesn’t end in teaching students how to put ingredients together, but also inspiring them to develop food concepts.

Millennials are actually positively responding to these trends. Culinary students dream not only of becoming world‑class chefs but food entrepreneurs.

“When I decided to enter Culinary Arts, I had my mind fixed on putting up my own restaurant in the future because as far as I could see, that’s the trend now,” Culinary Arts student Claire Sulit said during the event. “That’s really my ultimate goal.”

“The thing about millennials is that we have fresh ideas on presenting the food, not just making it,” she added.

And the students seem to be pleased. “The hands‑on training, coaching and mentorship by the esteemed chefs gave me and the others a huge confidence boost,” said Marion Santos, an “Elite Finalist” from Centro Escolar University.

Foreseeing the future, Mr. Rebulanan shared that the company plans to make Jolly University an actual learning facility for workshops and classes focused on food entrepreneurship.