MANILA - Pia Wurtzbach swears by her Miss Universe crown that a local chocolate brand is better than the foreign competition, so much so that she sent a box to Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton.
And when Pacific Rim leaders converge in the Philippines this week to discuss free trade and nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula, their spouses will get dark chocolates from Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown.
Filipino chocolatiers are pushing back against imported candies that are being offered at cheaper prices while building niche markets abroad.
"Kapag tinanggal mo yang mga brand na yan, hindi mo talaga mapapansin yung difference kasi masarap talaga siya," Wurtzbach told ABS-CBN News.
(If you strip the brand names, you won't notice the difference because it's really delicious.)
Hilton asked for samples of the chocolate brand she was endorsing when she posted a photo on Instagram, Wurtzbach said. The gossip writer was among judges who voted unanimously for the Filipina beauty queen during the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant.
Foreign brands such as Cadbury and Meiji have been offering smaller servings at around P20 per bar to compete on price with local brands such as Goya, endorsed by Wurtzbach.
Still, Filipinos prefer local brands due to their "level of sweetness that suits local taste preferences," research firm Euromonitor International said in a study.
Chocolates and chocolate-covered bars such as Nips and Cloud 9 from tycoon John Gokongwei's Universal Robina, accounted for 61 percent of the market last year, according to Euromonitor.
Davao-based Malagos Chocolates has built a steady following abroad with its dark chocolate bars and tablets that dissolve into drinks. Spouses of ASEAN leaders will get to try both this week, courtesy of Honeylet Avancena, the President's partner.
Philippine cacao gives Malagos Chocolates its unique flavor, said lead chocolatier Rex Puentespina told ABS-CBN News.
"It has to be local because we really have to promote sustainability para magtulong-tulungan tayo (We need to help each other)," he said.
Malagos is experimenting with chocolate-covered dried fruits and more Instagram-friendly packaging to attract more clients, especially in hotels, Puentespina said.
The company's foreign clients include a Singaporean ice cream shop that uses Malagos in its concoctions, he said.
"Tourism arrivals there is very high and it's close to us, but it's a tough market also because all the major brands are there and they are price-sensitive, he said.
For Wurtzbach, international recognition for Philippine chocolates is overdue.
"I think it's about time na ma-recognize worldwide ang isang Filipino brand na kaya din naman to be at par with international brands," she said.
(I think it's about time that a Filipino brand is recognized worldwide, that it can be at par with international brands.)