Baking Her Way through COVID-19 Pandemic

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Mar 22 2021 11:09 AM | Updated as of Mar 22 2021 03:21 PM

Can a “pasalubong” store stay open for business amidst a nationwide quarantine?

The quick answer to this is No, but for Ivy Millare who is no stranger to the hard life, she refused to close her doors and even kept all her staff employed throughout the past year.

Millare bakes and sells “buko” (coconut) pies and egg pies at Bebs-AJ House of Pies and Pasalubong Center, her own souvenir shop in Koronadal, South Cotabato. She started baking pies after she got married, when she and her husband could not find jobs. In the early days, with only P2,500 that she borrowed from her neighbors, she would bake pies and then sell them in her community.

One pie at a time

It was not an overnight success as she also received negative feedback from her first customers. One outright refused to buy again saying that her pie was not that good and actually tasted quite bland.

Ivy Millare of Bebs-AJ House of Pies and Pasalubong Center

“Simula noon, mas lalong naging importante sa akin ang comments ng mga suki ko. Dahil sa kanila, nagagawa kong pagbutihin pa yung produkto ko (Since then, it became more important for me to pay attention to comments from customers. Because of their feedback, I focused on improving my products),” recalls Millare.

At that time, Millare was the sole baker and she and her husband were lucky to sell between 1 to 2 pies a day. That meant an income of roughly P1,000 a week, hardly enough to support their growing family.

From baker to microentrepreneur

Listening to her clients paid off and her pies began to taste better. This created a nice problem for Millare of higher demand but limited supply. She needed capital to hire help and improve her production capacity. A friend suggested she join Kabalikat Para sa Maunlad na Buhay Inc. (KMBI), a microfinance institution offering loans for microentrepreneurs. 

Apart from lending her money for business capital, Millare is grateful to KMBI for providing her access to other services including microinsurance. With KMBI, Millare found a partner in growing her business and for the last 12 years, she has expanded her products, increased her clients, and established her own souvenir store. 

“Kung sa tao ka lang manghihiram, walang ganitong benepisyo (If you borrow from people, you will not have these benefits),” points out Millare. Since her introduction to KMBI, Millare has stopped borrowing money from her neighbors.

Thanks to her pies now sold with cassava cake, durian pie, ube jam, banana chips, butterscotch, brownies and more food items, Millare’s sales grew to reach more than P1 million monthly.

Good Samaritan act rewarded

When the pandemic forced community lockdowns, her business nosedived and she immediately lost as much as 60 percent in sales. Millare also worried for her 9 full-time employees who needed their jobs to provide for their families.

“During the first two months of the quarantine, we had excess products that were not sold. To avoid spoilage, we decided to give it to the frontliners here in South Cotabato,” relates Millare.

Her Good Samaritan gesture inspired others who decided to also buy from Millare and donate to the frontliners including health workers in their city. These customers and the ones who received the donations so enjoyed Millare’s products that they approached her to become resellers. 

Millare quickly put together a reseller business model that would be a win-win for her and her new business partners. 

“To become a reseller, they need to purchase at least 10 boxes. Our products do not contain preservatives so they need to ensure they can sell quickly, and so far the demand is good. My resellers introduced our products in other provinces like Cotabato, General Santos and Davao.” Right now, 60 percent of her resellers are frontliners such as nurses, police officers and relatives of front liners.

Hardworking backbone of local economy

According to KMBI President Ed Jimenez: “Microentrepreneurs like Ivy Millare are the hardworking backbone of our economy. Her passion enabled her food souvenir business to survive during a no travel period and she also became an inspiration to her community in recognizing the front liners. What's even more impressive is that she was able to turn this into another income stream for her and a source of income for those in need.”

Over the last decade, Millare has won several awards in recognition of her business growth, as well as funding from the Department of Science and Technology and a mentoring partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry. 

This year’s International Women’s Day highlights the theme “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World” and Millare’s poverty to success story deserves to be retold to inspire women from the poorest communities to own their future.

“KMBI exists in the service of Millare and microentrepreneurs like her around the country. We are committed to support them and we will work continuously to enable holistic transformation in their lives,” adds Jimenez.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.