Mr. Robert “Kuya Obet” Noceja and Mrs. Minerva Noceja, presenting their buko bibingka.

For the past 8 years, Robert “Kuya Obet” Noceja from Luisiana, Laguna, has been delivering firewood as gatong and buko and other raw materials for his buko bibingka business which is operating solely from his saved money. His mother, also a known buko bibingka maker since 1990s, encouraged him to continue the family business to have extra income in order to support his family who was struggling financially at that time. With limited cash in his pocket and a lot of courage, Kuya Obet quit his delivery job and took the challenge. He invested his effort and time in creating the delicious buko bibingka product known today as Minerva’s Native Delicacies.

“It was very difficult at the start. We cannot compete with the established vendors as they have a lot of loyal customers and oftentimes, we have a lot of unsold products [and] we are losing our capital,” narrated Kuya Obet as he recalled his early experience as an entrepreneur.

His wife Minerva worked as a local child caretaker at that time, providing a more stable income for the family yet they still have difficulty in making ends meet, especially since both of their children are at school.

On March 12, 2015, Minerva helped Kuya Obet, and the couple decided to establish their physical store along the highway of Barangay San Antonio (their current location) in Luisiana. They registered their business name to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and acquired their Mayor’s Business Permit. It was a risk taken for which they are thankful up to this date.

They learned by experience as they put up one additional store in the same vicinity and employed two regular and two part-time staff, manning both shops under their supervision. Little by little, they have managed to expand their business through their loyal resellers across the area and customers, who are mainly motorists and biker tourists. The business has also gained popularity in social media as seen in the number of its followers. They have maintained a good customer relationship and organized feedback mechanism which enables them to monitor their client’s needs.

In February 2020, Minerva attended a local seminar on Good Manufacturing Practices discussed by Trini Sager from the Department of Science and Technology – CALABARZON. The said seminar was conducted by DTI Laguna through its Negosyo Center Luisiana as part of the SME Roving Academy. “Ang dami ko pong natutunan — sa kalinisan ng pag-process [ng] product namin pati rin po sa bahay [ay] nagagamit namin ‘yung na-discuss sa seminar,” shared Minerva. Furthermore, she also expressed her interest in joining other government programs as she believed that learning product development, packaging and labeling, nutritional content and shelf life is beneficial in their business. She sees these processes as necessary to address market needs and elevate their product in the future. “Those are key components in our product for us to reach our goals and maintain our market presence,” she added.

As their business slowly kicked off, the country was suddenly hit by the COVID19 Pandemic. It was an unforeseen circumstance that greatly affected the health sector and put a halt in almost all businesses not only locally but also globally and the micro, small, and medium enterprises were mostly affected by this crisis. When asked about their status during and after the pandemic, Kuya Obet mentioned that “we have to continue selling even if our sales drop [kahit na] wala na pong customer [at] bawal po lumabas ang tao. Even us are not allowed to operate [pero] good thing that local Luisianahin continues to patronize our products [at] kahit paano [ay] nairaraos namin ang pang araw-araw”.

After the pandemic, things went back to normal, and things went even better for them. They were invited to showcase their product at a different market outside the Municipality of Luisiana. In December 2021, M. R. Noceja Native Delicacies Store was included as exhibitors in a provincial-level marketing activity co-organized by DTI Laguna held at Vista Mall, Santa Rosa City, Laguna. Through this event, they gained attention to various consumer channels, widened their network and benchmarked other business entrepreneurs. It also helped them to focus not only on tourists but also on possible resellers, aiding them in adopting an alternative form of revenue stream. They thought that online and social media marketing might also work for them at that time. They also adopted an electronic payment system through GCash, which they have learned through the business consultancy services of DTI Laguna through its Negosyo Center.

In 2022, M. R. Noceja Native Delicacies Store was enrolled in the One Town, One Product Program of DTI Laguna wherein they acquired new product logo and packaging ideas for their manufactured buko bibingka. They also participated in food compliance trainings provided by DTI Laguna to its enrolled OTOPreneurs to ensure that they provide their customers protection from potential health risks.

Moreover, the business has been featured in award-winning shows like “Byahe ni Drew” and “Kuya Kim Ano Na” which were both aired at GMA Network, further boosting their marketing campaign and highlighting the Municipality of Luisiana as well. They were very grateful and thankful not only to DTI Laguna for its extension services in many areas of their business but also to their loyal clients. “Sila po talaga ang nakapagbigay ng inspirasyon sa amin [at] pati po ‘yung nasa Itaas [ay] patuloy po kaming ginagabayan,” added Minerva.

Aside from those publicity, the couple is very humble and generous as well. They shared their knowledge in making buko bibingka to those interested. They have taught students from Laguna University in Santa Cruz, Laguna, and some students from the Rizal Province. They also shared the production operation among those interested local entrepreneurs who want to learn and engage in the same business field. “Hindi po dapat ipagkait ang ating karunungan [at] para matutunan sa mga susunod na generasyon,” Kuya Obet reiterated.

The business is currently developing different varieties in their products. Flavors like cinnamon, buko pandan and buko tablea are now being added and developed by Kuya Obet and hopefully, their customer will like it, too. They have been studying the products and market response, adjusting the process and raw materials. They are also planning to improve their existing facility and convert it into a more comfortable, nature-type establishment so that all consumer sectors can enjoy buko bibingka meal at their store.

“Ang pagmamahal sa produkto at sa pag-gawa mo — isa ‘yan sa sikreto sa Bibingka namin,” proudly said Kuya Obet. He added that believing in your product with perseverance, hard work and patience tops them all. Though they have not yet reached stable financial streams, their lives improved through these business attitudes, and they were able to send both of their children to colleges.

Minerva also shared that it is a positive customer relationship that helps them a lot in thriving the industry. Kuya Obet and Minerva are inspired by their customers who are fond of visiting them in their store saying that they have been to other stores, but Kuya Obet and Minerva welcome them more warmly. Aside from offering free coconut water, they also enjoy talking with their customers as they share their town’s historical background. They also guide them to tourist attractions that their community has to offer, and Minerva testified that their customers have good smiles as they leave their store.

Date of Release: 20 July 2023