What started as a hobby is now giving a former overseas Filipino (OF) a steady stream of income.

Ma. Socorro Mendoza, Iraya Life Enterprises Operations Manager, shared that her interest in beekeeping began when she was still working in Papua New Guinea. Soccorro’s former employer owned a honeybee farm in Malaysia, and this piqued her interest. Beekeeping then became one of her hobbies.

Iraya Life Enterprises Operations Manager Ma. Socorro Mendoza

Learning the basics

Socorro attended a training on beekeeping at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to learn the technical side of her new-found hobby.

In 2016, she resigned from her work and went back to the Philippines to start her own business in Calapan City.

Highly interested in beekeeping, she decided to put up a business that offers bottled honey and its by-products, which are mainly personal care products. In early 2017, Iraya Life Enterprises was officially born.

The businesses started with just 20 bee colonies. Now, it maintains more than 200 bee colonies to keep up with the demand of their by-products.

Iraya Life Enterprises offer stingless honey, its first product sold in the market. Socorro takes pride of their stingless bee honey. She described it as “sweet and sour” type which is more potent or nutritional compared to the other types of honey. She shared that this product is even tagged as “mother medicine” in some countries because of its anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties.

Honeycomb producing stingless honey

Iraya Life Enterprises products includes stingless bee honey, wild honey and European bee honey.
Stingless bee honey, according to some researchers, is twice as nutritious as ordinary honey.
Wild honey on the other hand has antibacterial properties, hence, acts as a good healing agents for wounds from abrasions, surgery, bed sores, infections and ulcers.
European bee honey are produced by bees that originated in Europe which has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Iraya has also become well-known for selling various personal care products such as lotion, moisturizer, and soap, with honey as the main ingredient.
Socorro also makes sure to collect propolis, a resinous substance that is accumulated by bees from plants. This is a popular raw material used in making beauty products. Given its benefits and uses, propolis has a very high market value, according to Socorro.

“I am glad that we help in making safe, organic, and natural products more accessible to the public,” she said.

Iraya Life Enterprises Operations Manager Ma. Socorro Mendoza showing how they beekeep to produce their stingless honey

Unfazed by challenges

“All businesses would have to go through some challenges—you just have to focus on the solutions,” said Socorro who experienced a couple of setbacks, especially when she was just starting.

Socorro recalled that the changing climate in Mindoro was actually the first and main challenge she had to overcome. Many of the colonies did not survive the amount of rain in the area.

However, every problem has a corresponding solution, so she looked for a possible workaround: have the colonies covered.

Socorro admitted that she had no idea how to market her products. While she had already equipped herself with the technical side of beekeeping, but was still not adept in introducing or selling the products in the market.

Immediately after registering her business with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), she was invited to a number of seminars.

“Year by year, I learned how to combat the challenges of the business,” said Socorro.

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DTI gave Socorro a string of opportunities, particularly a great avenue to market and develop her products. She joined several trade fairs, specifically the DTI MIMAROPA regional trade fairs that helped her introduce Iraya Life Enterprises’ organic products to the public. She recalled how DTI’s help led the way to the success of her business.

Aside from the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program, which enabled micro and small enterprises to learn from big businesses, Socorro shared that her business also benefitted from DTI’s One Town, One Product (OTOP) NextGen, a program that seeks to capacitate micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in terms of branding and marketing.

The KMME, she said, gave her opportunities to learn much on product development. She also decided to study skin care formulation to be able to diversify and thus offer more products.

Aside from learning the rudiments of marketing and beekeeping, Socorro then invested in product development and grabbed the opportunity to attend a training on skin care product manufacturing.

DTI assisted Socorro in completing the necessary laboratory tests to prove that her products are made from pure honey.

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“Marketing is crucial, so I have to keep up,” said Socorro who now depends on various channels in selling honey and personal care products.

Aside from the traditional physical distribution stores and pasalubong centers in Oriental Mindoro, Iraya Life Enterprises has expanded its reach and tapped individual sellers in other areas as far as Metro Manila and Cavite.

Socorro now sells online to reach more buyers and interested resellers. Products of Iraya Life Enterprises are now being sold through online selling platforms such as Facebook, Lazada, and Shopee.

Slowly but surely

Socorro dreams of building a physical store for her business, which she said, is already in the pipeline. If Socorro and her team would be able to raise the needed amount of money, a physical store might also be built in the last quarter of 2020.

By 2019, Iraya Life Enterprises plans to offer more products that include balms and ointments.

“We have set a time frame, and we want to make the expansion gradual,” said Socorro, noting that someone had actually offered to invest as a partner for the expansion.

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“Maybe after four to five years, we will be ready to expand. We have to make sure that we are indeed ready,” Socorro stressed as she did not want to compromise the quality of each product.

“We value integrity more than anything,” added Socorro, with the conviction that quality is always more important than quantity. She would also remind her team to stay customer-focused, deliver commitments, and promote passion for excellence.

As a former OF who had to endure being away from family for a decade, she said the greatest reward of her venture is being at home to spend more time with loved ones and providing employment to workers and partner sellers.

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