For Lani Buencamino, 51, a mother of 3, science teacher, and an entrepreneur, the idea for Sweet Bulakenya Foods came from giving pasalubongs (gifts) to her relatives.
Nanay Lani's in-laws are businessmen and professionals looking for gifts to give, she recalled, and they frequently requested milk-based delicacies such as kesong puti and pastillas. With decades of experience as a food entrepreneur, Lani decided to turn her tradition of gift-giving into a full-blown business. "I said, 'We know how to make kesong puti. Why not make our own kesong puti?" she recalled.
Carabao’s milk is a staple in Lani’s recipes. Based in San Miguel, Bulacan, Sweet Bulakenya Foods specialties include kesong puti spread, kesong puti cream cheese and cheese pimiento, kesong puti bars, minis, and nuggets, keso dilya (a Pinoy-style play on quesadilla), pastillas de leche bars and spread, and their best-selling Empanada Kesong Puti. They also sell different varieties of empanada, and dessert toppings such as yema spread and ube jam.
Lani and her husband, Cornelio, experienced several challenges on their way to making a sustainable business. “It was not a smooth-sailing journey because we had several trials and challenges along the way,” recalled Lani. “Sweet Bulakenya is actually a product of the downfall of our first registered business.”
The couple ended their first venture, an empanada store, after expanding to several new locations left them unable to keep up with large overhead costs. Shortly after they recovered and started anew with Sweet Bulakenya Foods, Typhoon Santi came in 2013 and ravaged their food supplies, temporarily crippling their business.
“Dumating si Santi, bumaha. Alam mo, lahat ng stock namin, nako, dumating sa gate. Lumutang ang mga balde-balde, mga timba-timbang stocks namin (Typhoon Santi came. Our stocks floated in the flood and reached as high as our home's gate. Buckets and pales full of our stocks floated),” Lani said.
As she remained strong and resolute in these times, Lani also gave special mention to the Foundation for Enterprise Management, Inc. (FEMI), which helped her and husband keep their business afloat through financial support and consultation. Afterwards, Lani took every opportunity available to promote her business — joining bazaars, building distribution partnerships within and outside of Bulacan, and even promoting her new recipes on TV.
When the pandemic struck, Lani and Cornelio used their resilience and their hard-earned business acumen to swiftly adapt to the new reality. Within a few months, they had closed their main physical store along Maharlika Highway, San Miguel, Bulacan and had moved their business completely online.
They also sacrificed to sustain the livelihood of their local farmers. In order to continue purchasing the milk supplies of local farmers, the couple ran a Buy 1 Take 1 campaign on their milk products early in the time of COVID-19 and were able to empty out their freezer in just a week. This move put them at a loss, but the couple did not want to turn their backs on their milk suppliers, as well as farmers outside their supply chain who appealed to them to buy their products. Lani and Cornelio also connected these farmers to NGO partners and local government sponsors who purchased thousands of liters of their milk to sustain their livelihoods.
Nanay Lani visiting a family of carabao raisers from Brgy. Tibagan, San Miguel, Bulacan
When asked about her motivation for moving her business online to Iskaparate, Lani said that she aims to promote the sustainability of the small farmers they are supporting. “Kasi kung titigil kami, madaming apektado. Madaming umaasa sa amin na mga carabao raisers, mga carabao farmers. Mga small time farmers. Titigil sila ‘pag umalis kami (If we stop, many will be affected. We have many carabao raisers and carabao farmers counting on us. The are small time farmers. They can't carry on without us)," Lani said.
Powered by online selling, Lani said that Sweet Bulakenya Foods has now doubled its sales compared to business pre-pandemic. She attributed this to higher online demand for their homegrown dairy business and an expanded number of resellers. They’ve even managed to onboard more farmers and make them more profitable.
Nanay Lany visits an Aeta community in Mabalacat City where she sources ube for Sweet Bulakenya Foods. She also took this opportunity to let them taste the end-products of their harvest.
Lani continues to use her business to inspire progress in her community. Oftentimes, her motivation has less to do with promoting the enterprise itself, and more with meeting the needs of the people behind it. She said: “The selfless desire to continue with our business — 'di amin lang. Gusto ko talaga madiretso para kami mas makatulong pa sa kanila (It's not just our desire. I really want to push through with our business so that we can help them).”
Lani has since partnered with an Aeta community, in the boundary between Mabalacat City, Pampanga, and Bamban, Tarlac, to give them a venue to sell their ube crops. She also continues to set aside a part of her earnings to run a scholarship program.
Success as an entrepreneur entails having a wide range of skills, but for Lani, her formula relates more to the person running the business.
It takes three things, she said:
"You should have perseverance and hard work. You should be dedicated - your whole being, your whole heart, and whole mind are in it. And lastly, the quality of your product. It should be competitive. Honest, sincere, without any shortcuts. The product itself speaks of its high quality,” - with reports from Gab Lacierda
To support Nanay Lani and Sweet Bulakenya Foods, visit https://www.facebook.com/SweetBulakenyaFoods 🌱
(Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the English translation to the quotes in Filipino.)