ALEJO’S BEST TABLEA AND CHOCOLATE PROCESSING
Cacao production is one of the oldest agricultural industries in the world and is a profitable business with the potential to generate income in many forms. There has been a big demand for cacao ever since it was projected that climate change could make chocolates go extinct by 2030. It also means that there are a multitude of opportunities to take advantage of it—which is exactly what Shihan Marie Cheska A. Alejo and Sheena Allysa A. Alejo did with their Alejo’s Best Tablea and Chocolate Processing enterprise.
A good start
Shihan and Sheena were born and raised in Antipas, North Cotabato on July 5, 1998 and on November 25, 2002, respectively. The older Alejo received a degree in Business Administration major in Human Resources, while the younger Alejo is taking up Political Science.
Due to cacao’s high demand both locally and globally, the Alejos have planted cacao trees in their 20-acre land in the areas of President Roxas and Antipas. Based on the latest comparative data on cacao production, the province of North Cotabato has about 1,816-hectare-wide area of cacao plantation with its latest production of 878.44 metric tons—which means that they have the necessary conditions to maintain long-term survival in the cacao industry.
Fresh from the farm, harvested cacao fruits were transported to the selection area for fermentation through the Household Multi-Purpose Cooperative, of which the Alejos are member-owners of. This follows the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) wherein cacao trees are planted in the most suitable pattern and density to ensure easy management, with proper pruning also an important operation.
After the fermentation, the drying process occurs. The roasting and winnowing of seeds into nibs follow. Then, the most interesting process starts the making of the chocolate products. Through this tree-to-bar process guided by the GAP, quality chocolates are produced. Truly, the combination of distinct soil and good weather give the Alejo’s Best products their unique Filipino taste.
There are many health benefits found in cacao and pure chocolate. Chocolate is one of those healthy, feel-good foods, especially when eaten in the right amount. It releases serotonin and endorphins into the bloodstream, making a person happier, more energetic, and more amorous. Because of its productivity, profitability, and health benefits, the Alejos decided to research and to venture into chocolate production.
With the help of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Young Farmers Challenge Fund (YFCF): Kabataang Agribiz Competitive Grant Assistance Program, the Alejos realized the concepts of farming in daily life. They submitted their application and successfully made it to the top three Regional Level winners from SOCCSKSARGEN. They used the Php 250,000 total grant that they received as start-up capital for their planned innovative chocolate hub.
Their love for food, mind for business, and desire to help the Filipino farmers are their reasons in making their idea come to life. These also became their stepping stones in realizing their agribusiness dreams. Now with more funding, they expect to level up their business with improved equipment and facilities, resulting in an upgraded quality of their beans.
As youth, they are aware of their responsibility to positively contribute to the nation’s economy. With the full support of the Local Government Unit, the Office of Sangguniang Bayan, and their local DA, they are positive that their dreams of a locally and internationally known chocolate hub will definitely come true.
Best foot forward
Shihan, a Business Administration graduate, decided to quit her job as she sees greener pastures and opportunities to help other people in the chocolate business. Sheena, on the other hand, is currently a university student who finds the value of wise time management to skillfully divide her time for business and studies. Her income from this agribusiness even helped her pay for her tuition fees.
The Alejos are very thankful to the DA and its YFCF Program for allowing them to create job opportunities for their locally-based indigenous peoples (IP), who are financially unstable and more vulnerable in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As their way of giving back the blessings of good harvest from nature and the Almighty, they offer free sikwate or hot chocolate drink every Saturday to the community.
Presently, Alejo’s Best has ventured into value-added products, which further augmented its income. These additional products are milk and dark chocolate combined with various flavors, cacao vinegar, tablea, and cacao nibs.
With its continued growth, Alejo’s Best hopes to be an avenue in providing opportunities that will boost economic stability, alleviate poverty, offer livelihood opportunities to local farmers and IP communities, and leverage partnerships in the industry. ###