Now entering the roster of local plant-based food: butter.

Saganà founder and CEO Sharon Cattleya Romero-Faude chose to create a vegan version of butter because it is an essential kitchen ingredient next to pantry staples flour, sugar, eggs, condiments and vinegar. According to Romero-Faude, many recipes use dairy butter because it gives depth, flavor, texture and richness to a variety of dishes like pasta, sauces and especially baked goods like cakes, breads and croissants.

“Mimicking dairy butter’s form, color, flavor and functionality using natural ingredients and without hydrogenation felt like the perfect food innovation to meet the future of food and the growing global health trend,” says Romero-Faude.

Saganà’s coconut spread is made from 81 percent pure, non-hydrogenated coconut oil, 15 percent water and 1.5 percent salt. Compared to dairy butter, this plant-based alternative uses 70 percent less water to produce and emits up to 50 percent less carbon dioxide in the process. The company sources its coconuts from, and works with, smallholder farmers, cooperatives, and like-minded, accountable organizations.

It was originally produced for the Swiss-EU market since Saganà saw that the European market was mature and ready for sustainable food alternatives. The choices for dairy-free and lactose-free substitutes for milk and cheese are growing fast with many conscious consumers seeking it and willing to pay for it.  

Prior to the pandemic, Saganà had the chance to market test its plant-based butter in five key cities in Germany (Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart) for three months, and in Geneva, Switzerland.  According to Romero-Faude, the feedback was favorable especially from vegans, vegetarians, gourmands and those with an intolerance for certain food. 

This type of plant-based butter does not contain a vegetable oil blend
Sagana coconut spread’s difference from other plant-based spreads is that it does not contain a blend of vegetable oils and is non-hydrogenated with zero trans fat

“The steep cost of air freight due to the pandemic affected us more than the reduced production hours and delayed shipments following the imposed COVID-19 protocols. It was impractical to export our chilled vegan butter last year, thus, we decided to apply for the Food and Drug Administration’s approval and introduce it to retailers in Manila for market testing,” says Romero-Faude. 

She also notes that many Filipinos are more health- and quality-conscious now, which means consumers are more discerning of ingredients and appreciative of premium brands with purpose. 

Saganà’s team found it a pleasant surprise to discover various vegan, vegetarian and healthy food groups in the Philippines. They found communities that proactively share ideas and recipes on social media, and are very open and ‘hungry’ for quality, safe, sustainable and healthy dairy, seafood and meat alternatives. Romero-Faude says that these people are eager to support sustainable and locally made foods and brands even if these are generally more expensive.  

“Perhaps with startup pre-financing, mentoring and market access support, many promising Philippine brands can commercialize their plant-based offers at more competitive prices and aspire to grow,” she says.

As an export-trading social startup, the company is looking to reach more consumers by continuing its marketing efforts on social media (by sharing easy recipes and relevant content), working closely with partner retailers and establishing a more efficient and practical distribution system for the provinces.