As meat consumption rises in Filipino households, so does poultry, pork, and beef, the first of which is becoming the preference of consumers due to its abundance and relatively easy replenishment. According to a May 2016 report by the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Philippines is slowly approaching the production of 200 million chickens, with a predicted 178.77 million to be produced before the year ends.

Statistics aside, it’s easy to see how chickens are tied to our daily lives. Regular in rural areas but still visible in the urban landscape are chickens kept in backyards for personal consumption. Out in the farmlands, chickens residing in the same area as ducks, pigs, and cattle are a common sight. Known as the backyard sector, this scenario is all too familiar nationwide and comprises almost half of all poultry produced.

The poultry industry permeates the city scene just as well, from isaw and chicken skin being sold in the streets to the numerous restaurants that use poultry in their dishes. Filipino cuisine is no stranger to the use of chicken meat, and as the demand for more of it rises in scale, so does its production. Industrialized, large-scale production by the commercial sector answers the need with broiler chicken, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of all poultry production, according to the same study.

For producers in the poultry industry, there lie the same compromises of quality versus quantity, of keeping a foothold in their market share while innovating to keep up with global trends.

emerson siscar takes pride in having a poultry business focused on non-commercial brown chickens
Emerson Siscar takes pride in having brown chickens that are not commercial

French cut

For Tina Morados and Gerard Papillon of Pamora Farm, getting into the business of raising livestock was a happy coincidence. Papillon saw an ad for a seminar on French free-range chickens and asked Morados to investigate. Morados met Bobby Inocencio, who revealed free-range chicken as a humane and healthy alternative to broiler chicken. With 1,000 square meters of land in Abra that Morados bought in 1994 and 500 chicks, so began the duo’s interest in growing chickens for themselves under the name Pamora Farm, a portmanteau of the husband and wife tandem’s surnames. That was in 2000.

Sixteen years, several deals and expansions, a number of news features, and one Order of Merit of Agriculture, Grade of Knight conferred by the French Embassy later, Pamora Farm distributes 7,000 to 8,000 chickens on a monthly basis to supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, and gourmet stores, including Santi’s Delicatessen.

But their journey had its ups and downs, starting from the way they got traction. “It’s a chicken and egg situation,” says Morados. “We started thinking it could be a business for my parents in Abra, and we couldn’t sell them there because the chickens were too big. When we offered [our chickens] to the French community, [it started] a demand. Then when we sent some to Santi’s, that’s when we thought that this could be a business. That’s when we got the proper permits, registered as a business, and also selected our name.”

“Eat free-range chicken, know your farmers, know your suppliers. That’s when [the consumers] will start to think,” advises Tina Morados of Pamora Farm.

But as their business grew and more people became aware of free-range chicken, so did their larger competitors. Squeezed on both ends, supplier and consumer, they resorted to what they knew best: their own product. “What we just have to do is continue with the quality,” Morados points out. Instead of attacking their encroaching competitors, they focused on the positive values of their business. “Eat free-range chicken, know your farmers, know your suppliers. That’s when [the consumers] will start to think.”

Pamora Farm aims to follow the French standard when it comes to chickens. It takes 80 days to grow them, and they use air-dry chilling for storage. They have the proper knowledge to back it up; Papillon grew up in a farm in France while Morados studied how the French dressed their chickens every time she visited.

The main goal right now for the Papillons is for Abra to be recognized as the capital of free-range chicken in the Philippines, and each year they are inching closer to not only awareness but recognition.

Premium poultry

Pronic Foods has been in the business of growing livestock for nine years now but only in the last three has the business turned a profit, thanks to a change in strategy. Pronic Foods raises broiled chicken, but aside from being relatively smaller in scale, they stand differently from other commercially raised chickens.

Broiled chicken can be grown humanely, explains Ian Madera, one of the partners behind Pronic Foods, which distributes Cenyu Probio Chicken. “We encage them for controlled feeding. When people think encaged, they think it’s cramped. But we don’t do that. We use conventional farming that you see in the barrio where the kawayan floor is elevated.”

Another particular growing technique that separates Pronic Foods from its competitors is its use of probiotics. “We call our chickens probiotic chickens. We feed them a different strain of bacteria through the water system.” The chickens are fed thrice a day but the water system with the bacteria runs 24/7. “We culture our own bacteria that is indigenous to the area. The idea is that it adapts faster to the body of the livestock.”

Not only that, but the feed they use is not imported but grown by them as well. “If we buy vegetables outside, how can we be sure what we buy are free of pesticides? So what we did is we planted our own corn, our own vegetables. We are sustainable on our own.” This method earns them the right to call their chickens organic aside from being chemical-free, according to Madera. Hence the name of the company, Pronic Foods, which morphs “pro” and “organic.”

“We encage them for controlled feeding. When people think encaged, they think it’s cramped. But we don’t do that. We use conventional farming that you see in the barrio, where the kawayan floor is elevated.”

With all these measures taken into consideration, what difference do they make in terms of taste? “Because of the bacteria, the feed conversion ratio is better,” he says. “The meat is pinkish and it doesn’t shrink.”

Chickens are raised between 45 to 48 days and are sold whole for P300 per kilo. After beginning with restaurant chains, Pronic Foods is now entering retail and then residential, in that order. “We started with restaurants, and we got lucky to get into grocery stores. Now, we have a motorcycle delivery system in Metro Manila. Minimum of three to five pieces depending on the distance.”

Right now, their biggest obstacle in terms of the business is logistics. “It’s very hard to go around and groceries are very strict with the delivery time.” Despite this, expansion is imminent for Pronic Foods. From 10,000 chickens per cycle, Madera is forecasting double the number come first quarter of 2017. As the business expands, he points out that quality comes first. “In this business, integrity is very important. We started with premium chickens; the process should be premium as well.”

Brown and beautiful

Before venturing into the poultry business, Emerson Siscar of Batangas Free Range Chicken was looking for an alternative way to earn more without leaving his family. Siscar was an OFW for several years, working in the Information Technology (IT) industry. Beginning with 1,000 birds in 2010, Siscar’s enterprise now delivers to high-end residential areas and supermarkets and supplies the various chains of Healthy Options.

As the name implies, Batangas Free Range Chicken focuses on raising brown chickens in segmented groups in Batangas, as well as egg production. “Brown chickens are sturdier in that you can let them roam the farm,” Siscar shares. “We grow the chicken for 80 days, and we have our own trade secret in terms of growing the chicken. Our chickens are fed with herbs and we use our own feeds.”

He points out though that the market shift towards brown chicken raised some problems for the regular consumer. “There’s a mindset that when a chicken is brown, it’s an alternative, it’s more natural, it’s healthy. But the market is now flooded with brown chicken that is commercial.”

However, there is hope for the discerning consumer through their tastebuds, if not their eyes. “In terms of meat texture, white chicken has a texture that I call gummy. What usually makes a chicken taste good are the ingredients and the sauce. You can eat our chicken with salt and pepper, that’s it.”

But of course the burden lies on the consumer, who can only find out the difference once the purchase is made. Considering their business as still part of the backyard sector (“If your number of poultry is below 5,000, that’s considered backyard in terms of numbers”), being dwarfed by large-scale businesses is a real issue for Siscar and other farmers who do the same.

“Brown chickens are sturdier in that you can let them roam the farm,” Siscar shares. “We grow the chicken for 80 days, and we have our own trade secret in terms of growing the chicken. Our chickens are fed with herbs and we use our own feeds.”

Since competition is stiff, and now that one cannot tell which is which from the get-go, Siscar opts to go with more creative ways in terms of packaging without letting go of his P250 per kilo price. He uses handwoven baskets made in Batangas to hold eggs in the grocery stores to entice potential buyers and brands the eggs as “Ala Eggs,” which not only stands out in terms of branding but also cheekily points out their origin.

He takes pride in his chickens being free-range but steers away from branding his products as organic. “There’s no such thing as 100 percent organic chicken in the Philippines. One of the reasons is the raw materials being used. I don’t say that we are organic, but I’m open to everyone visiting our farm.”

With his IT background, Siscar aims to integrate current technologies to communicate the product better to retailers and consumers. “Looking at some trends abroad, what I would like to have is that if you look at my chicken, it has a code, you can check the code on my site, and you can see where the chicken came from, what it is eating, its diet. Those are interesting facts.”

This goes well into Siscar’s desire to go beyond the competition not only in terms of branding but also in the product itself. “The heart of the business is that you have to be honest,” Siscar says.

Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 13 No. 6