It took a number of hurdles and hiccups before Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Sansan and his wife Jacinta, owners of Nat’s Delicacies and Bakery Products, found their way to success.

Nat was working in an abaca processing plant in Maasin City, Southern Leyte when he decided to give his family a better life. He recalled of working so hard at the plant but still ended up living on a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle with no savings at all.

“I have dreams for my children, so I told myself that I need to do something,” Nat recalled.

String of lessons

Bearing in mind the dream for the family, Nat convinced his wife to venture into their own business.

In 1993, Nat and his wife decided to enter into buying and selling abaca products using their savings. Coming from the same industry, Nat thought it would just be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, the couple failed and ended up incurring losses.

Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Sansan sitting on a table full of their bestsellers

This did not dampen Nat’s determination, he tried manufacturing bags made of abaca. However, this too, did not succeed given the high production costs of goods and low demand in the market.

Nat decided to give it another try by making a business out of scrap abaca. He sold scrap abaca, but was not able to sustain it and even incurred losses.

But resilience is apparently Nat’s middle name. Despite several failed attempts in the abaca business, Nat and his wife tried selling vegetables. The couple, however, was not able to sustain it either.

After years of trial and error, the couple in 1997 tried cooking and selling bukorillo, a famous Filipino delicacy made of grated young coconut, coated with milk and caramelized sugar and formed into balls.

With only Php150 as initial capital, they tried several recipes of bukorillo to find the ‘perfect one’— a little sweet, and a bit crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside.

The couple had no expectations given the failures that they had encountered in the recent years.

“There is nothing wrong with trial and error. We decided to just try and try until we got what we wanted,” Nat said.

A Sweet Find

The couple tried several recipes before they decided to sell the first set of bukorillo to nearby elementary school canteens. They helped each other in baking the produce, and Nat was assigned to deliver their produce.

A few months after, Nat received feedback that the students loved their bukorillo. The demand also increased, so they decided to hire one staff to help them with the production. It was then when they also started offering Nat’s Bukorillo to pasalubong centers in nearby municipalities. They also targeted the bus terminals and airports. Eventually, they stopped supplying to elementary schools and began focusing on these pasalubong outlets.

Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Sansan and his employees concocting their bestselling bukorillo

Over the years, as their bukorillo attracted more customers, not only within Maasin City but also in other areas, Nat decided to expand their product line. They added some sweet dough breads, and cookies such as rosquillos, sortidos, galletas, salvaro, and patatas. They also produce banana, ube, and camote chips, and macapuno tart.

As the couple added more products, the numbers of orders increased significantly. Before, they would only cook two to three sets of bukorillo daily since the delicacy cannot be cooked in bulk. But now, they can process 15 sets a day just to cover the orders.

In terms of market, their products are not confined in Southern Leyte. It reaches major cities in the region such as Tacloban, Palo, and Ormoc, as well as other municipalities in Eastern Visayas. They are also supplying various outlets in Luzon, Mindanao, and Metro Manila.

From a household enterprise where Nat and his wife were the only ones in charge of the production, their enterprise now has 26 people working on the production side.

This thriving business enabled Nat and Jacinta to send their children to school. Some of them have already acquired their college degrees and some are living comfortably with their own families.

Finding solutions

It would be easier to think that after four failed attempts of building an enterprise, the journey would be smooth for Nat and his family after they finally found the right business for them. But that is not how real life works.

Nat and Jacinta went through a lot of hardships before making a name for their business. One of the biggest problems they encountered is the loss of capital due to customers who were not able to pay their debts. When they were starting and still trying to establish their relationships with potential partners, they were lenient and trusting. But some of their first customers refused to pay for the products that were already consumed, which significantly hurt the business.

An employee of Nat’s Delicacies and Bakery Products printing and cutting out labels for their products

Instead of feeling disheartened, Nat looked for solutions to solve this particular problem. It served as an opportunity to improve their systems in business operations and setting standards in choosing partners.

Furthermore, the competition in bukorillo production is also tough in Maasin City. Since they were not the first ones to make these products, it became a bit difficult to establish a market and to make their brand stand out.

“Our products are of high quality. We make sure that the ingredients are complete. In this kind of business, the taste and quality are crucial. If you offer both, buyers will keep on coming back,” Nat shared.

He is also hands-on in supervising the processing of their products. He and his wife always make sure that there is at least one of them present in the production to guide their workers.

Sticking together

Nat’s Delicacies and Bakery Products is being run not by one man but by the entire family. At present, it is not only Nat and Jacinta who are involved in the business. All five of their children are engaged in the enterprise, with the eldest serving as the marketing officer. If weren’t for his family, who serves as his inspiration and partners in the business, Nat knows it will be impossible for him to reach this point.

Government agencies have also helped Nat and his family survive the failures and expand the business. Notable is the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which has been providing support since the couple was just starting in 1997.

DTI regularly invites them to trainings and seminars on how to further grow their business and manage it properly. For one, Nat’s eldest daughter was a mentee under the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program, where they got the opportunity to be mentored by successful entrepreneurs.

DTI also provided them with product development assistance through the One Town, One Product (OTOP) Next Gen program, which resulted in improved branding and packaging of their goods.

Through its regional and national trade fairs, DTI likewise helped the family widen their market access. The enterprise is a regular exhibitor for Region 8’s Bahandi Trade Fair, held annually in Metro Manila. They also participated in the National Food Fair.

“If not for DTI, I’m sure we will not reach this far,” said Nat.

Nat likewise received assistance from other government institutions such as the Department of Agriculture, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Visayas State University through their Department of Food Science and Technology (VSU-DFST).

Just like how the pieces of grated young coconut need to stick together to make a good and delicious bukorillo, Nat knows that he will not succeed if his family and their institutional partners did not stick with him.

A plateful of Nat’s Delicacies and Bakery Products' bukorillos and sortidos

Sharing the sweetness

After more than two decades in the business, Nat’s family makes sure to bring back the blessings to their community.

Aside from the mandatory benefits that regular employees receive, workers are also given meals for free.

“Before, some people would even tell me that I’m incurring more costs because of what we offer to our workers. But I told them that I’m happy that we’re able to feed them,” Nat said.

Their family also conducts regular feeding programs in nearby communities to pay it forward. They also serve as resource persons to various livelihood seminars and workshops.

Passing on the spatula

When asked about his future plans for the business, Nat believes that it is about time for him and his wife to retire and enjoy the fruits of their labor and finally let their children stir the bukorillo business.

“It’s my children’s turn to run the business,” Nat said.

At present, though still involved in the business, Nat is starting to delegate major tasks like marketing and management to some of his children. Besides, they are the reason Nat has been a tough cookie ever since. The intense desire to provide a good life to his children pushed him to succeed. And now, he is not just able to give that kind of life to his children and grandchildren. He is handing over a company that can provide a continuous source of livelihood for the succeeding generations of his family.