Warming up to Cold Storage

Illustration by glenzkie tolo

It was their father Mariano Qua who introduced the brothers Marco and Morris to the business of frozen seafood supply. In 1988, Qua established Sikat Araw Trading Corporation, exporting quality seafood to different parts of the world. Giant shrimps were the specialty at the time.

As young boys, they practically spent their childhood around fish and the factory, learning about sustainable seafood and responsible fishing from their father.

Marco Qua, president of Cold Storage Seafood, talked about their latest endeavors on TribuneNOW’s Spotlight last December. Under his leadership in tandem with his brother, the business has expanded and opened its doors to satisfy seafood cravings.

Daily Tribune (DT): How has it been since your reopening last November?
MQ: The restaurant we opened, I think, around 2018 — a stall inside the corner market in The Podium; it’s a food hall…It’s basically a mixed, hybrid category wherein we have our frozen seafood and we showcase how to cook our seafood there. Last November, we re-launched our branch in San Juan. That branch has been there for more than 20 years, so we decided to relaunch it, renovate it, and I like our seafood better.

DT: What experience do you want your customers to have in the relaunched branch?
MQ: Okay, so basically before, it was due for renovation anyway. So, we decided this year would be the best time to renovate everything. So, we closed down the store and then rebranded it, relaunched it. It has a younger feel. It’s… brighter. It’s all vibrant. So, I think it attracts a younger crowd as well. And we get to showcase our full line of seafood products unlike before because we had limited freezers before.

DT: So over the last two decades, Cold Storage Seafood has been championing local seafood in the Philippines and around the world. You’ve been exporting as well. What is your main thrust in business? Can you tell us more about how the business began? I think it was your father who actually founded the company, right?
MQ: My father exported shrimps before. So, we were exporting the best shrimps from the Philippines to all over the world — to Japan, US, Europe. Then we were talking to all our clients and then we noticed, “Hey, why is it that other countries are enjoying the best seafood from the Philippines?” and then we said, “Hey, maybe this is the time to bring in the best seafood the world has to offer and bring it to Filipinos.” That is why we started Cold Storage Seafood around 1996. That’s when we opened our first branch in Banawe (in Quezon City). And then we expanded to supermarkets and the rest is basically history.

DT: Did you join the business right away? Did you go to another field before finally deciding to join the business? How did it go for you?
MQ: At a young age, for my brother and I, our normal dinner conversations with my dad was usually about business operations, about opportunities and everything. So, when we started to work inside the company, it was almost like too easy. Because we spent our Christmas vacations, summer vacations in the store, or the factory looking at the products. So we were exposed to the business really, really early.

DT: And to this day, do you still experiment? Are you also a foodie? Or do you like spending time in the kitchen as well?
MQ: The pandemic made me experiment more. I think that’s what makes our product more accessible, I guess, and more convenient. During the pandemic, I started to cook more at home. So I noticed, hey, maybe we can improve the packing size — make it smaller. Make it more convenient to store in the freezer and everything. So, it was a learning experience for everyone as well.

DT: Your culinary know-how also helped you learn more about the business, what customers may want. That’s a good insight. When did you actually join the company?
MQ: I think officially maybe around 2011, 2008. I started within the factory wherein I was sorting through the returns and analyzing the products and working in the team.

DT: And then when did you become the president of the company?
MQ: I think five to six years ago because
basically when my dad said, okay, I am assigning each of us to a different department.

DT: What is your brother handling?
MQ: My brother is in-charge of production in the factory. And it’s perfect because he pays attention to details so much. So in that sense when we work together, we’re very complementary.

DT: How does it go? Is it give and take?
MQ: Actually, it’s too easy. I feel like he is a cheat code for me because we work so well together that even if we argue, (it) always ends up having something positive come out of it
— all the time. So we share the same vision, we have the same passion. I trust him 100 percent when it comes to the operation so it feels perfect to have someone like that beside me.

MARCO Qua, president of Cold Storage.

DT: But what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your father that you still carry today as president of the company?
MQ: I think my dad always had this passion to focus on quality, never cut corners and take care of the people around you.

DT: Those are the things that you carry because you said as young as you were over the dinner table you talked about business already?
MQ: Every dinner time, my dad would be like “Oh, do you notice this?” “Hey, this is a market,” “This market or maybe we should serve this market,” like the high-end products, or focus on this quality, how this quality can be improved. Everything, from products to management, we discussed, even the financials, or how to fund projects. My dad would always tell us okay, prioritize this, prioritize that.

COLD Storage is not just limited to frozen seafod as it also offers fresh catch of different kinds of fish.

DT: What can you say about the younger generation getting more interested in food because of the engaging content on social media and the increasing awareness of the importance of sustainable practices in the seafood industry?
MQ: For me, there’s this notion that seafood is difficult to prepare or is complicated. When my siblings got married, I noticed that everyone likes to cook at home. So, what we did was open the Corner Market stall. It’s basically to show people that seafood is not that difficult to prepare. It’s very easy. You can pan fry it, grill, steam or bake it. So, that’s one of our goals, and then for accessibility, we made sure that we’re available in most supermarkets so that our customers can enjoy seafood conveniently.

Cold storage also sells products in supermarkets.

DT: You also have the cuts already?
MQ: We offer Japanese sushi and sashimi in the supermarket. We are actually one of the pioneers introducing the sushi products in the supermarket. I know because before you could only enjoy sushi in restaurants…so, we started a sushi booth before in Rockwell, inside the supermarket, and so right now we have a bigger line of this place in maybe five to six supermarkets right now.


PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF IG/COLD STORAGE PH

DT: But people are generally meat loving. How do you convert them to be seafood lovers? How do they make them choose seafood over meat?
MQ: I think it’s nice that we get to highlight the benefits of eating seafood. It has so many vitamins, it has good protein, it has less fat, less calories [and] it helps in weight loss. As you know, Pinoys right now are very, very health conscious. So that alone helps a lot and maybe just informing them of these benefits will encourage them to eat more seafood, not saying that meat is bad. I’m just saying that between seafood and meat, if you want a healthier option, go for seafood.

The company supplies 400 different products to over 150 stores around
the country.

DT: What are your plans to further promote seafood in the Philippines? Business plans, expansion plans, what’s in store for 2023?
MQ: I think for next year we plan to work closely with supermarkets, making sure that shelf space for seafood gets bigger, and it grows because we feel like the demand for seafood is getting bigger compared to maybe 10 years ago. Right now, there’s so much seafood to offer, and given a bigger shelf space, it will allow customers to enjoy and learn more about frozen seafood. We’re no longer being limited to just tuna or milkfish or tilapia. We can have salmon maybe, some Alaskan crabs, Shanghai crabs and all. Actually, we’re in talks with a lot of supermarkets and they’re very excited that we’re going to expand the assortment for frozen seafood so we can easily add maybe 30 to 40 different kinds of fish for basically customers to enjoy more.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF MARCO Qua and cold storage

DT: What’s the most enjoyable thing about being president of Cold Storage?
MQ: Well, right now, like I said, I told my brother we no longer have any excuses we’re not working together. So moving forward, I said okay, we need to get things done, we need to start moving forward. So, this is part of our campaign, to relaunch the brand, make sure that the brand is known for quality seafood, and basically right now, the good part is we get to do, to execute our ideas swiftly and at least, given that we share the same values, me and my brother, it makes everything easier for us.


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