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Mannafest, a heaven’s food delight in times of pandemic

God will provide. Indeed, heaven provided ‘manna’ to hungry people in biblical times when people were in distress, exhausted from days of journey to the promised land.

Today, this act of heaven had been emulated with human kindness to create quality food products to feed the modern Zamboangueño.

Mannafest Food Inc., a manufacturer of bread and other pastry products in Zamboanga City won the 2021 Productivity Olympics National Award under the Industry- Small Category during the virtual awarding ceremony held on October 21, 2021.

Owned by Remie Talaver and managed by his son, Jerome Talaver, Mannafest was recognized as one of the outstanding Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the country with best practices on business continuity, employee engagement, and employment preservation despite the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.

It was not an easy feat. The younger Talaver said at first, like all businesses, starting one is always challenging, especially in the food industry.

“We had no experience in baking so we had to start from scratch and learn how the baking industry works.  It was a step-by-step process and it took a long time. There were a lot of trial and error. We had to go through ups and downs until we were able to figure it out and find our rhythm as a company, developing and perfecting our recipes, installing the right systems and hiring the right people,” he said.

The company’s name came from the biblical word Manna of the Old Testament. “It was food that came from heaven. We wanted to create a brand that reflected our Christian background and is grounded on good values and love for others,” he explained.

Their small enterprise started with ‘pasalubong’ biscuits like biscocho, otap, toasted mamon, etc. but later became famous for their Manna wheat bread and its flavored varieties. Talaver believed what made their product exceptional is its quality.

“I guess the success comes from our mindset to not settle [with what is] and realizing that there are still more to learn and a lot of things we can improve on,” he said.

The pandemic brought down many businesses and establishments on their knees, a number closed shop. Many workers depended on businesses for jobs that many longed for especially in times of the pandemic.

The main challenge for Mannafest during the pandemic were the delays in the delivery of raw materials because of government travel restrictions and temporary shutdown of some of their supplier's facility in Luzon due to the spread of COVID-19.

The company with a total of 41 employees as of 2021 thrives and provided their employees with the much-needed support to survive in the crisis.

“Aside from the basic government mandated benefits, we provide 1 sack rice allowance and cash assistance as well as medical assistance. During the pandemic, we were able to provide them with COVID prevention kits, which contain vitamin C, face masks and alcohol. We also provided shuttle service to our admin staff last year when public transportation was not available.”

Mannafest Food Inc. stood out among MSMEs in Region 9 due its growth from 2020-2021. It made a lot of upgrades in terms of equipment and manpower, and improved its packaging and added a bunch of new products in its lineup of products: ube cream bread, chocolate cream bread, turmeric cream bread to name a few. The company had a significant increase in its sales as well. But, most important of all, the company was able to take care of its employees even during these tough times.

On August 12, 2021, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB)-9 awarded Mannafest Food Inc. as one of the eight Regional Winners for Zamboanga Peninsula, along with Best Reach Out Sells Inc., Breaking Barriers Philippines Inc., LM Metro Hotel, Shinelo’s Cakes, Sibuguey Valley Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Woodland Resort and Restaurant, and Zam’s Delight Foods.

The RTWPB-9 said from 148 regional winners from all over the country, Mannafest emerged as one of the nine (9) national winners of the biennial competition.

The National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) spearheaded the awarding ceremony, along with the RTWPB. Out of all the Regional Winners nationwide, the National Judging Panel has selected 30 MSMEs who qualified as National Finalists. Among these finalists, nine MSMEs were awarded as National Winners representing the Agribusiness, Industry, and Service Sectors.

Here are the 2021 Productivity Olympics National Winners:
· Agribusiness-Micro Category: Rejano’s Bakery (CAR)
· Agribusiness-Small Category: Bagnos Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Region I)
· Agribusiness-Medium Category: Grain Pro Philippines, Inc. (Region III)
· Industry-Micro Category: Sandria’s Delicious Concept (Region II)
· Industry-Small Category: Mannafest Food Inc. (Region IX)
· Industry-Medium Category: Sunlight Foods Corporation (NCR)
· Service-Micro Category: HR Spectacles (NCR)
· Service-Small Category: Northern Roots SG Group Inc. (CAR)
· Service-Medium Category: Andres Soriano Memorial Hospital Cooperative (Caraga)

The RTWPB-9 Secretariat and Board Members attended the virtual awarding ceremony and expressed their full support to ZamPen’s National Winner. The members of the board include Chairperson and DOLE-9 Regional Director Roy L. Buenafe, Vice-Chairperson and NEDA-9 Regional Director Phlorita A. Ridao, Vice- Chairperson and DTI-9 Regional Director Al-Zamir I. Lipae, Employer Representative Edgar B. Lim, Employer Representative Roberto G. Valerio, Labor Representative Rey Anthony D. Trio, and Board Secretary VI Joel M. Ijirani.

Jerome Talaver said a lot of government departments offer help and support to local businesses and small startups.

“We ourselves have received a ton of help from Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) when we were still starting out as well as from Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE),” he said. He was hoping that more small industries and entrepreneurs can benefit from the programs of the said government agencies.

Now, Mannafest focuses on upgrading its commissary in terms of equipment and process, hoping that the company can expand its production facilities in one of its neighboring provinces.  They have a distributor already in Ozamis and Cagayan de Oro.

Mannafest’s products may not be free just like the manna from heaven, but as what Jerome Talaver said that they give importance on the values they want to put into their company and its employees, which could be an advice for beginners in the business.

“Maybe, the advice I can give is [for entrepreneurs] to be patient. Just put in the work and work smart. Be humble and always be open to try new things. And lastly, take care of your people,” he said. (EDT/RVC/PIA9/20211102)

About the Author

Rene Carbayas

Assistant Regional Head

Region 9

Media practitioner, a teacher by profession, an advocate for youth, peace and environment, culture and the arts, playwright and theater artist, earned his Masters Degree in Theater at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, and pursued studies in public administration at Western Mindanao State University. Some 18 years in public service and today as Assistant Regional Director of the Philippine Information Agency Region IX.

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