Sisters make hundreds of rice cakes a day in Ilocos Sur
By Sosimo Ma. Pablico
The Manila Times, August 1, 2003

BANTAY, Ilocos Sur–A food industry in this town that started on a small scale four years ago has gone a long way.

On top of its success is a woman who finished no more than elementary school but has hurdled all the odds.

Today, The Sisters Royal Bibingka, assisted by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in the Ilocos, is a resounding success.

Marina Paiste, 45 and her two younger sisters, co-owners of the business, never went on to high school because the family was too poor.

Their lack of formal schooling was compensated for with training programs, which Paiste attended to help her in the operation and management of the business.

Her sisters are Julita Pico, 43, and Veronica Ramirez, 35. Julita now operates a store in Manila, while Veronica, a three-year secretarial graduate, lives in Hawaii with her husband.

Although Marina was silent on who put up the biggest share for their starting capital of P130,000, it appeared that Veronica was the financier. The amount was equivalent to about $3,000 four years ago.

The money was used for the construction of a building, a four-square-meter pugon (oven), machines and other equipment, baking facilities and raw materials.

Marina said she and Julita were left to run and work for their business. At the start, they were making at most 30 boxes of bibingka a day. There were many instances when they could not sell all 30 boxes in one day, so the rest had to be sold the following day.

She was quick to add that their bibingka does not become stale even after a week.

Today, even as prices of raw materials have increased tremendously, the factory makes 150 to 300 boxes a day on ordinary days, with practically nothing left at the end of the day.

During the Christmas season, however, they make more than 400 boxes since the demand is so much higher.

Eight laborers now work in the factory in addition to members of the family and their nieces who lend a helping hand during weekends and holidays.

Most of their bibingka comes in the form of small cups. One regular box contains 16 cups.

This size has also enabled them to sell bibingka in small boxes containing three cups.

Marina recalled that at the start, they were only making bibingka in big pans. For customers, this size was cumbersome, as the bibingka still had to be sliced.

The factory has diversified. Cassava cake is baked in cups daily although the volume is not as much as the bibingka.

Marina said their bibingka, like the other bibingka in Bantay and Vigan City, is made primarily of bellaay or glutinous rice powder. The difference is in the kind and amount of ingredients mixed with the glutinous rice powder such as cheese, eggs, milk, margarine and sugar.

She revealed that unlike the traditional way of making bibingka in Bantay wherein coconut milk is used, The Sisters uses evaporated milk instead. This saves them the additional labor cost of grating the coconut.

For Marina, procurement of raw materials is not a problem since suppliers bring these.

For instance, glutinous rice is brought all the way from Cagayan province and Abra. A poultry farm in San Fernando City, La Union, and an egg supplier from Candon City, Ilocos Sur, also bring eggs to the factory.

Marketing is no longer a problem, for customers themselves drop by the store at the factory. Buses plying the Laoag-Manila route, cars and passenger jeepneys frequently stop at the store, which is north of the national highway at Barangay Naguiddayan in this town.

Moreover, middlemen also buy in bulk and bring the products to San Fernando City, Baguio City and Laoag City.

Marina hastened to add that the DOST in the Ilocos, particularly the provincial science and technology office in Ilocos Sur, played a key role in the success of The Sisters Royal Bibingka.

She said DOST built one oven for the factory, which enabled them to increase their daily output. The department also provided assistance on product packaging, water analysis and shelf-life testing. Moreover, it provided a mechanized mixer, which enables the workers to prepare the mixture before it is placed in the pan, or cup molder.

For Marina and her sisters, there’s no way but to continue with what they have already attained.

And Marina wishes that, with the availability of some money now, her children would have the desire to pursue higher education.

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