“Now we realize. When we try to connect the dots moving backward, we now understand why we came back in the Philippines. Everything is a blessing.” —Cathy Salimbangon
There are countless stories of triumph and success where the protagonist is faced with immense challenge and hardship—that indeed the roads to success are never smooth and that storms even visit the calmest of seas. For childhood sweethearts, Elton and Cathy Salimbangon, the founders of Organique, a leading manufacturer of Acai products, their story is no different.
For 15 years, Elton and Cathy lived modestly in the United States. Elton was working in a manufacturing company that produces healthy beverages while Cathy was working as a registered nurse in Southern California.
It was in mid-2008 when Elton watched a Television program featuring the superfood acai berry and its health benefits. When he reported back to his boss, he was told that the company was already developing an acai based drink. Since this first acai product failed, Elton asked his boss if he could reformulate it.
And he did, despite not having a background in food and business manufacturing—he was an IT major. But he diligently worked with the research and development team to help him with the acai product in exchange of his expertise with computers.
“We started from scratch. We started from acai berry. Acai berry is very bitter but I was thinking ‘Filipino’. It has to be a sustainable taste–not bland or anything. I was asking R&B. We put on some apple juice and put in some other mixes until we finally got the consistency right,” Elton said.
It took several months to create the amazing, delectable taste that Organique is known for today. And it was also after the long and intensive research and development’s success when they faced their first problem: How do we sell this?
In October 2008, Cathy and their kids went back to the Philippines. Elton sent her the concoction he created–a small white bottle with no name nor any labels.
“We have to sell it, so I start with friends. It’s hard because the acai is new and it’s expensive,” Cathy admitted.
Elton was really surprised when he learnt from his wife that their product was acknowledged. And with that, Organique, Inc. started to take form as Cathy started selling it to her family and friends.
Early on, Elton purchased excess acai berries from the company he worked at, but as his own product expanded, he had no choice but to invest and buy thousands of gallons. The shipping overhead alone was incredibly costly starting out. But in the true entrepreneurial spirit, Elton believed in his vision.
“At that time we didn’t have anything at all. We didn’t know anything. We didn’t have the money to start,” Elton confessed.
When they decided to relocate in the Philippines in 2009, they set up a small office in the corner of their house made of concrete and wood, and without even paint.
Unable to afford brand labels for their product, they simply started with stickers as labels.
Bringing the product to market was a challenging task. The product was new, hard to pronounce, and at the same time, very expensive. Some of their clients even asked why they don’t just go back to States instead of facing ordeals in putting up a business that was not even their forte.
In the Philippines, they first introduced their product in Cebu since they were also from Cebu, going door to door, and clinic to clinic just to introduce their product.
Elton and Cathy believed that Cebuanos are difficult to please. They described Cebuanos as thrifty. But they knew that if Cebuanos appreciated their product, it means their product can be appreciated in other places as well.
Several months later, they expanded into Manila which was quite challenging because not only did they have no network, but their family had no experience in this kind of business. Suddenly, faced with rising debt, they were no longer able to pay for production costs.
“I really thought I made a mistake in putting up the business,” Elton admitted as he expressed how difficult it is for him and his family.
But they never forget to always pray and ultimately, God provided them with what they needed at exactly the time they needed it most.
At one of these events, they were introduced to Cory Quirino, who it just so happens, was actually looking for an acai product but couldn’t find it anywhere in the Philippines. Flabbergasted by this chance meeting, Cory invited Elton and Cathy to be guests on her radio show.
Soon thereafter, they were approved to distribute at Watsons, one of the largest health and beauty stores in the Philippines.
“Our label is made of sticker. We were delighted that they accepted our product because for me, it was really unappealing. But it’s the only thing we can afford,” Elton said.
And then suddenly, they started getting featured on TV shows and some of their celebrity customers even advertise their products free of charge because of the product’s high quality and health benefits.
Since then, they continue to expand their product and promote healthy living to their fellow Filipinos. Despite the difficulties, the testimonials they received from their clients made them inspired to push through.
From a simple experiment, Organique has now grown into a full fledged multinational corporation, continuing the promise to bring the best quality and standard of their acai products to their customers.
“We came from a very quality company and we also want to bring the quality that we have. We are very brand conscious. The quality. We’re looking at the quality,” Elton emphasized.
Their acai products are now available in Watsons, Mercury Drug, Robinsons Supermarket and Southstar Drugstore nationwide.
Originally starting in the Philippines, Organique now holds several markets in the US, Hong Kong, and Middle East; and is rapidly expanding.
Elton and Cathy are now looking forward to developing Organique Acai into tablets to make it more available and easily accessible. As for now, Organic Acai maintains a successful manufacturing plant in California.
“The standards. No matter what, that’s the standard. You cannot go below your standards. That’s why when we first started our product, it should not go down. It should be more, always improving.” Elton affirmed.
At first, Elton and Cathy thought they made a mistake in starting their business after facing difficulties one after another. But as they overcome all the trials, they started to see that everything was actually God given grace.
Photographed By Noel Ty