Never let your adversities dampen your high spirits, especially in business. This is the story of how a loving mother from Bulacan overcame the hardships of life and was able to establish a business. Mrs. Lea V. Tolentino, owner of Leaj Food Products was raised in Bulacan. She got married at a young age and after giving birth to her first son, she went abroad in search of greener pastures. In 2008, her family relocated to Bataan, back to her mother’s hometown. After a while, she then returned overseas to work again. When she came back in 2011, she started a small ‘lutong ulam’ business together with her husband. However, the business didn’t turn out well and in 2014, they decided to move back to Bulacan. There, she began brewing salabat (ginger tea).
Her version of salabat was originally her grandmother’s recipe. It was her Lola Magda and Lolo Andoy’s business back when she was still a kid. She recalls that they (together with her siblings) used to help their Lola by grating fresh ginger, blending and mixing ingredients, and packing the finished products. This made her familiar with the entire procedure of making salabat.
When Lea started making salabat powder, she found it difficult because she still does it by hand. From grating, extracting the juice, and cooking until ready to be powdered, the process is all done manually. This is in addition to her being a full-time mother and wife.
Her first customers are her neighbors and relatives. She distributed free sample packets for people to try her ginger tea. She also promoted her business on her Facebook page for the broader market. In 2016, she started attending DTI seminars in Bulacan and introduced her product to more people by attending trade fairs. She named her business Andoy Magda Turmeric & Ginger Tea.
Ms. Lebby Geronimo, a DTI employee, advised her to join the DTI Mentor Me Program named Kapatid Mentor Me (KMME) which helped her in learning more about running a business, as well as connect with others who may assist her in growing her business. The year 2017, after KMME Recognition, she found out that she was pregnant. She decided to go back to Bataan so her mother could look after her, while her husband was working. She had to put her business on hold for a while since she was pregnant. After giving birth, she underwent a breast operation, that’s why it took her so long to re-enter the business world.
In 2019, she started making Turmeric and Ginger Tea again. Even though the majority of her clients live in Bulacan, she continued to operate her business in Bataan. It was like starting over again because her product was still unrecognized in Bataan. She gradually began to pave her path to becoming recognized as an entrepreneur in the town of Samal. Her business became known to produce healthy and delicious Ginger and Turmeric teas. When her customers in Bulacan found out that she was back on business, they resumed placing orders again.
She eventually met Mrs. Armida "Amie" T. Santos, business counselor of DTI Negosyo Center - Samal's. She changed her business name from Andoy Magda Turmeric Tea to Leaj Food Products. She continued her participation in different types of seminars, and later on, became part of the Samal Entrepreneurs Association (SEA). Being able to join trade fairs again, her products slowly established their name in the town, and due to special requests, she began introducing new tea varieties such as Turmeric with Lemon Grass Tea, Turmeric with Pandan Tea, and Turmeric 8 in 1 Tea. With her quality products, she was getting progressively loyal customers and patrons from Bataan. Due to increased demand, they also ventured into planting turmeric, ginger, pandan, lemongrass, and other plants that she could use in making healthy and all-natural tea on her mother’s farmland in t Palili, Samal. She was then able to help local farmers in Palili by purchasing raw ingredients from them as her sales grew.
When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, their output was severely hampered. The orders decreased and logistics became challenging. Luckily, they were introduced to Shopee during one of DTI's webinars. On Shopee, they could sell their products nationwide. And when people realized that Turmeric and Ginger tea would help them strengthen their immune systems, their product became in demand. Many of their regular customers became resellers and they gained new regular customers. Their monthly sales are now ranging from 20k to 40k. During the pandemic, many individuals became coffee drinkers as a result of internet coffee trends such as iced coffee, dalgona coffee, and hot coffee. They came up with the concept of combining coffee with their turmeric. Now they have introduced Turmeric Coffee with Moringa as a new product. To flavor their coffee, they use Robusta coffee which also helps in preventing diabetes.
They always make certain that their products are all-natural and free of preservatives.
Leaj Food Products regularly participates in seminars/webinars, and trade shows wherever feasible. They are seeking not just more sales and a larger network, but also a healthier society!
By: Armida T. Santos / NC Samal