As COVID bites, Carmen’s Best launches new 'abot kaya' ice cream line

David Dizon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 20 2021 03:37 PM | Updated as of May 20 2021 05:57 PM

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MANILA - Need to cool down? Artisanal ice cream brand Carmen's Best is targeting a different market with a line of flavors that’s easier on the wallet just in time for hot season. 

Arctic Ice Cream is the brainchild of Carmen’s Best founder and brand genius Paco Magsaysay, son of former senator Ramon "Jun" Magsaysay Jr.

Speaking to ABS-CBN News, Magsaysay said the idea for Arctic Ice Cream came when he noticed coffee shops and restaurants would stock both his product and more commercial brands. The reason: restaurants would serve Carmen’s Best as a stand-alone dessert while using the cheaper brands for other products or for set meals. 

“Our clients are buying Carmen’s Best and telling their friends about it. But then I see that whenever they have pie ala mode or a milkshake, iba ‘yung ice cream na ginagamit nila. I guess masyadong mataas ang food cost ng Carmen’s because the quality is very high. Sabi ko: ‘I want that business’ kasi kausap ko na sila, ka-deal ko na sila. May relationship na kami. I want to maximize my relationship with my accounts,” he said. 

The solution then was Arctic Ice Cream -- a value line of ice cream that was cheaper but still tasted better than other commercial brands in the market. This was no idle claim, Magsaysay noted, because his team did taste tests to compare the new flavors with the leading brands. 

“We made sure it tastes better than [other brands] that is in the same category, that’s why people are moving to it because for that price point, it's actually quite good. That's how we differentiate our product is to make it taste a little bit better than the competition right? That's what we did with Carmen’s Best,” he said. 

He added: "The price point is relatively low, it is nowhere near Carmen’s Best prices. We made it abot-kaya."

Arctic Ice Cream is currently available in 3 flavors – Chocolate, Vanilla and Ube. A pint of Arctic Ice Cream is priced at P90. 

Before the pandemic, Carmen’s Best also launched J&M Naughty and Nice Cream featuring 4 flavors of alcohol-infused ice cream: Secret Breakfast, Irish Coffee, Brown Russian and Kahlua Coffee. The ice cream is not for sale to people under 18.

PIVOT TO DIGITAL AS COVID FREEZES ICE CREAM SALES

One reason for Magsaysay’s drive for innovation is necessity as the COVID-19 pandemic took a huge chunk of his business in the first half of 2020. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Carmen’s primary clients were the first to feel the chill, with hotels, restaurants, resorts and airlines all closed during the lockdowns. 

“Most of our business came from B2B accounts. We were really selling to restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, airlines, resorts. We were not selling direct to the consumer, let's say like a Serenitea or a Starbucks. Kami, ang clients namin were other businesses,” he said.

Carmen’s Best sales dropped 90 percent immediately after the March 2020 lockdown, Magsaysay revealed, even as salaries, rentals and bank interests remained constant. 

“It went under 10 percent ‘yung benta namin. Sabi ko: ‘Naku, paano na ito? Kung magtagal ito, baka magsara na.’ Kasi siyempre ‘yung mga suweldo ng tao, hindi mo pwedeng sabihin: ’10 percent lang benta ko, 10 percent lang ang suweldo mo.’ Buhay ang sweldo nila…We might have to shut down,” he said.

Luckily, a pivot to digital helped boost Carmen’s Best sales as signature flavors such as Salted Caramel (which put them on the map) and Malted Milk (a favorite of Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines in 2015) were selling gangbusters online. 

“Sa awa ng Diyos, gumanda naman ng kaunti. People started ordering from us,” he said. 

The push to e-commerce also revealed there was a hunger for Carmen’s Best ice cream in the provinces, with orders coming from as far as Kidapawan, Sultan Kudarat and Koronadal. The reason? 
Carmen’s Best had now earned an enviable reputation of being a must-try dessert all over the country. 

“Parang nagiging isa na kami sa mga kailangang i-try na pagkain,” Magsaysay said, noting that many business people from the provinces who try their products while in Metro Manila would later bring them home and try to sell them.

The Carmen’s Best website was recently relaunched to become a full-fledged e-commerce site that accepts GCash and online payments for online orders. The site will also accept credit card payments soon.

After cracking the Singapore market, Carmen’s Best is also looking at the United States, South Korea and Japan even in the middle of the pandemic. 

For Magsaysay, there is no reason to fear the Goliaths of the ice cream business because he has a solid stone in his sling – a quality product that may well be the best in the world.

“When we made the ice cream, we really aimed to make it the best way we can. Meaning we are not cutting corners, we are not putting a lot of air in the product,” he said in a separate interview with overseas entrepreneurs. 

“If I know that we are equal or lower than a Häagen-Dazs or a Ben & Jerry's, hindi na ako magbubukas diyan sa Singapore. Kasi how can I compete with these big guys if they are much more known than us, they have more capital and manpower and then my product doesn’t taste as good as theirs or is only equal? Eh hindi na ako lalaban diyan, wala akong laban talaga.”

“But if the customer tries our ice cream and compares it to anyone else’s ice cream, I am confident -- we’ve never lost a blind test -- that they will choose ours. Nobody knows Paco Magsaysay in Singapore, nobody knows Carmen. Since we started in 2019, it has not closed despite the slowdown in the economy. Why? Because when people try it, they keep on coming back because they’ve never tried ice cream like that before. We don’t cheat our clients and customers. We’ve built trust with our regular customers and the fact that they patronize us and tell their friends and family about us, it’s a huge help for us.”