From passion project to thriving agribusiness, Pinkie’s Farm dairy products are making its way to more Filipino homes
I MUST come clean.
I have been a big fan of Pinkie’s Farm, especially their yogurts, shortly after their products made their way into my favorite food bazaars and specialty food retail stores.
I usually go for their unsweetened or low-fat variant, and indulge in the strawberry and lemon zest flavored ones, which I keep in the freezer for eating later like a sorbet. But I noticed that a lot of their customers also love their milk, especially the flavored ones in chocolate, coffee, and mango. And to think, Filipinos are supposedly lactose-intolerant like most Asians!
“The dairy [business] initially started as a passion project of my parents, and was really envisioned to be small and personal,” shares Pinkie’s Farm managing director Katrina Limcaoco. Pinkie’s was established on a farm property her family had already owned for quite some time in Lipa, Batangas, with an initial capital of some PhP200,000 to raise three pregnant cows. About PhP500,000 in additional capital was invested to operate the business for the initial six months.
But it was only in 2011 that the company went into the agribusiness. “When our herd and our output reached a level where we thought it wasn't sustainable processing just for friends and family and selling the majority as raw milk. Demand was so strong so we said, ‘why not grow?’ We didn’t want to waste the opportunity and the feedback was good. So that was when we decided to expand and market our products,” she says. The milk produced from grass-fed cows is of single-origin, meaning they don’t mix it with milk from other farms.
The company recouped its initial investment approximately after three years or in 2014, recalls Limcaoco. “We lost a bit at the start but we really took off when we made the switch to glass bottles.” Glass bottles are not only safer, the products taste better because it doesn’t absorb any tastes or odors from the glass unlike plastic packaging. Also, products chill faster in glass bottles, and are recyclable. Pinkie’s Farm encourages its customers to return their empty bottles, and the deposit is subtracted from their next purchase.
The company implemented key strategies to help recoup their investment, by “[selling] a premium product, since our supply was very limited. That's why we upgraded our packaging to glass bottles, and introduced products like butter and buttermilk that were byproducts of our low fat milk, and our scamorza, which has a higher profit margin. We also made the decision to minimize selling raw milk.” The profits made by the business were ploughed back into the business to expand it, Limcaoco underscores.
The biggest challenge the company faced is the nature of the product itself. “Dairy, especially fresh milk, is very sensitive to temperature, so handling, storage, and maintaining the cold chain is so important,” she explains. “Because of the sensitivity of the products, we've had to throw away our idea of a simple dairy and invest in equipment like refrigerated vans, chilling tanks and batch pasteurizers. Before we reached our present scale we were doing everything with simple home refrigerators and coolers.”
‘I've learned that milk and yogurt are not really an impulse buy but more a household necessity.’
Aside from milk and yogurt, Pinkie’s Farm also sells premium butter either unsalted, or with Maldon’s sea salt; buttermilk; smoked scarmoza cheese and kesong puti, and frozen yogurt. There are plans to expand the line, says Limcaoco, like making mozzarella and burrata cheeses, and perhaps seasonal flavors of yogurts and milks. “But this is still in the works as our present orders keep us busy."
Pinkie’s Farm currently sells its products via monthly subscription plan. The goods are then delivered by the company right to the customers’ doorsteps on specified days twice a week. Customers can also pick up their orders at select hubs in Makati, Alabang, Mandaluyong, Ortigas, and San Juan.
Specialty stores like Real Food also sell Pinkie’s Farm products, and are also available at food bazaars in many parts of Metro Manila. (Bazaar announcements are usually done via the company’s Instagram account.)
Yet Limcaoco hopes to set up their own brick-and-mortar stores in select malls near residential areas. “I've learned that milk and yogurt are not really an impulse buy but more a household necessity, so I'd like to be located near a high concentration of residences.”
The bazaars are actually a very small component of their sales; the company participates in them more for exposure. “The bulk of our sales come from our subscribers and our retail customers. Our hub system seems to work well because our hubs are located in mainstream areas,” she adds.
For would-be entrepreneurs who want to go into the food industry or agribusiness, Limcaoco advises them to first study the sector they are entering and the market. “Agriculture is especially challenging because of its dependence on factors we can't control: weather, nature, disease. So know the perils of the business, and be humble in asking for assistance.”
She adds, “For products, it helps to have a product that has a clear story and a unique selling point. Customers appreciate quality and the effort that goes into products.”