Serendipity coupled with agility are two things that have stirred kiosk business leader Fruitas Holdings Inc. (FHI) to thrive during this pandemic crisis. Just a week before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila, the company’s visionary CEO and founder Lester Yu announced that it had just acquired CocoDelivery Inc. with the aim of expanding its delivery channels, bringing fresh and nutritious coconut water in particular to households and offices across the urban area.
At the start of the unprecedented lockdown, however, FHI was in the same dilemma as most businesses in the country. Mostly, figuring out what’s next and what now?
According to Juneil Dominic Torio, FHI Investor Relations officer, “Of course, we had that business as usual scheme.” But at the end of the day we were really limited so we really had to find a way to pivot our business. Prior to ECQ we were really strong in expanding our network, our reach.
“We discussed if stores will be open but then, customers were really staying at home to keep safe. So if you are a businessman, it’s not wise to even ask your employees to show up and open the stores. We were pushed to think of a way to do things outside of our core.
“We still wanted to be the leader in the kiosk business but how can we serve your patrons given the quarantine period. That’s when we saw the opportunity in the delivery. We had in-house riders who can directly serve our products.”
Fruitas Holdings Inc. traces its beginnings on 1 February 2002 when it opened its very first kiosk in SM Manila with ingredients for its fresh fruit shakes and juices sourced from Babot’s Farm. By 2017, it has expanded to more than 800 kiosks across the country in various malls and commercial establishments.
Besides its Fruitas products, the company’s tasty offerings include popular brands like Jamaican Pattie House, Shou hand-pulled noodles, Tea Rex, Juice Avenue, John Lemon, Black Pearl, Sabroso Lechon, Porto’s Peri-Peri Chicken, among others.
These affordable, quick and easy bites have found a niche for FHI, which has committed itself to preparing and delivering products from its commissary to the stores in the freshest quality possible.
Despite the initial disruption and looming business challenges ahead, the company carried on its usual operations and coupled it with its own share of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Through its CocoDelivery service, the company was able to donate bottles of fresh buko juice to frontliners — from those in the hospitals, to the policemen manning the streets, to members of media delivering the news.
This culture of giving back is nothing new to FHI as the company takes pride in employing members of the deaf-mute community who are trained and employed to become stores’ service crew.
The company is also known to provide educational assistance to deserving students who are also the children of employees.
Navigating the new normal
The business of food, of course, entails a natural engagement with clients. But as FHI tried to find its way into the new normal, the team itself was sort of pushed to start meeting up online to strategize their next moves. The safety of the employees amid COVID-19, of course, remains a foremost priority.
According to Torio, “The pivoting of the company, strengthening our services really helped the company to work. We have Zoom meetings, constant communication through Viber amongst our team and even our counterparts in the Visayas area. Keeping in touch through technology became an essential and the not so new normal.”
Today FHI has opened 50 percent of its operations across the country, including those in the Mindanao area. All these stalls, including their commissaries, maintain the strict health protocols required during this period.
Finding the silver lining
With the digital transformation of FHI, Torio also shared that the other part of the pivoting is also all about responding to their customers needs. In the beginning, he said, people were looking for something healthy as they were in quarantine in their homes. The buko and fresh fruit juices became in demand. But with the easing of quarantine, savory dishes like lechon and chicken were soon being asked by their consummers.
Torio said, “People were buying all kinds of foods online and we made sure we had something for their needs.”
Targetted and strategic social media also became a tactic. Torio added, “We became more active than usual but we also carefully studied our audience. For Jamaican Patty, for instance, we tapped the movie buffs at home, those who were into Netflix bingeing. So, rather than buy a bucket of popcorn that costs P100 pesos, we suggested our more affordable and filling Jamaican that’s only P60.”
While businesses are still reactive at this stage as a vaccine for coronavirus has yet to be discovered, the variety of FHI’s portfolio has been a strong advantage.
“It has always been our mission to be ubiquitous, we want to be present in the lives of the Filipinos. From breakfast to dinner and snacks, we have something to offer to them. For breakfast, we have our juices. For lunch or dinner, we have lechon and our peri peri chicken. For snacks, we have Jamaican patties.”
Serendipity used to the best edge with solid team work and agiliyt. That’s where the seeds of FHI’s success is inspiringly flourishing on in the next normal.
Torio gives some hearty and hopeful advice for entrepreneurs who want to get into the kiosk business or have one already: “At the end of the day you really just have to work hard and look for opportunities where you can serve customers. Discern what values you want them to see in your enterprise and your product. What’s your relevance right now? Will you be relevant in the next two to three years? One must be a forward thinker. In any business, that is.”