Believing in the Local Brew

A one-stop shop for Philippine coffee entrepreneurs supplies 100 percent domestically grown roasted beans and ground coffee to fine establishments around the country

Savoring the brew served by that five-star hotel or fine restaurant? Chances are it is one of many excellent products distributed by The Culinary Exchange.

For more than 30 years, this company has supplied discriminating establishments in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao with quality domestic roasted ground coffee and beans, gaining a loyal customer base along the way. How was this achieved and how is this maintained? Luis Miguel “Mike” Roces shares the history as well as useful business tips for budding entrepreneurs.
Taste, Travel & Trends (TT&T): How and when did the company start?

Luis Miguel Roces (LMR): The Culinary Exchange was registered in April 1980 by Messrs. Enrique Murio, a Spanish national, and Erwin Ackerman, owner of La Tasca.

In 1989, the present group of owners took over the management of the business, which was then purely a coffee roasting and distribution company. In 1994, the management group bought the business, eventually moving its operations from the original site in Parañaque to its own building at 23 Arayat Street in Mandaluyong City.
Since then, the company has grown from a single-product enterprise to a respected multi-line business in the Philippine food industry.

We rank fifth in the premium Philippine coffee distribution industry. But as in all businesses, this is basically a matter of longevity and in that regard, ranking third would probably be a conservative but safe estimate. We are relatively a small operation compared with other competitors, but in the absence of industry statistics, ours is a formidable position. Having added to its product lines, The Culinary Exchange also expanded its physical operations, with an off-site warehouse in Cavite, and a temperature-controlled warehouse in Makati for its
other products.

TT&T: Where do you source your coffee beans?

LMR: The Culinary Exchange is all about 100-percent locally grown Philippine coffee. We are a prime buyer of green coffee beans from all over the country, supporting farmers in Benguet, Batangas, Cavite, Davao. Our thinking on the law of coffee supply and demand is that we need to keep our suppliers as happy as our staunchest coffee drinkers. That means exercising due diligence on the green beans that we purchase, requiring hours of assiduous choice picking at the source, all the way to handpicking them at the pre- and post-roasting stages. This guarantees us the best Arabica, Robusta, Liberica (barako) and Excelsa beans year-round.

TT&T: Tell us something about the people behind the company.

LMR: I graduated from Ateneo de Manila University, AB Economics 1975. I have been at the helm since my group was contracted to manage it by the original owners. I have had many years of management experience in commodities in both the retail and wholesale food businesses, real estate and hotel business development. I am also very active in community church activities, balancing all these with regular hours on the golf course or on a fishing boat.

Ask me about the best places to fish in the Philippines and abroad, and I will tell you where they are!

Dimples Reytas, sales and marketing manager, graduated from Assumption College and is an accredited barista of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). With CITEM (Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions), she is a regular barista representative for both the company and the country in industry events all over the world.

Franchette Batario, our operations manager, is a graduate of BS Biology, Centro Escolar University who found a surprise calling in the coffee trade in 2001.

TT&T: What exactly are the company’s products and who is your clientele?

LMR: We are the Philippine distributor for Ghirardelli chocolate-based powders, flavored syrups, and superior European lines carried by the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group (MZB). We now carry leading imported brands of Italian coffee beans and personal and institutional coffee machines. Our expansion into distributing the highly rated Segafredo products for MZB gives us the ability to price these lines very competitively as we cater to both the established and emerging coffee connoisseurs in this exciting Philippine market. We look forward to putting these and other future products in the mainstream of local distribution.

The coffee machines speak volumes for the kind of business that we are in. No true coffee drinker worth his bag of beans will touch a cup of coffee that isn’t topped by that crema, which connoisseurs and aficionados regard as both a work of art and usually a guarantee of coffee superiority. It is that robust layer of foam that holds intact the promise of truly exquisite brewed coffee underneath.

The Culinary Exchange coffee’s superiority is best partnered with that crema!

TT&T: Describe the ways you serve your clients.

LMR: The Culinary Exchange is a one-stop shop for the Philippine coffee business. Our customers can order custom-blended coffee and sell or enjoy what truly pleases their palates. We hold cupping sessions with our clients for this purpose.

We provide everything that one needs for coffee service, from the creamer and sugar to cups and napkins. Our retail and catering business operators appreciate the extra mileage from customized coffee complements, which comes free of charge for reasonably sized orders. Delivery of goods is frequently free, depending on logistics, of course.

We provide our institutional users – those in the food and catering business – after-sales service for their coffee machines. We also have a practical lease-purchase arrangement for these machines.

We also regularly organize coffee farm tours for our clients and other practitioners in the coffee business.

TT&T: Where can we find your company’s products?

LMR: Our premium coffee is available in the biggest supermarkets in the Philippines, while our showroom is at our head office at 23 Arayat, Mandaluyong City.

TT&T: How do you rate yourselves against the competition?

LMR: We are confident that our excellent coffee and other products are, at the very least, on par with the competition. We have not wavered from ensuring this in every step of our operations.

The industry consists of many players. We have seen companies come and go. Trust – both from our suppliers and customers – is what has kept us in the business this long, and that is our edge. We may mainly cover roasting and wholesale distribution, but we know that the ultimate barometer is the public’s acceptance of The Culinary Exchange’s taste.

Small random surveys indicate a preference for our coffee, among the markets that value brewed coffee as an essential in their lives. The notable thing is that there wasn’t always brand recall. When asked, most people used to say “that blue or orange package with the galleon on it”, but actually needed help in naming the brand. Nowadays, they seem to know that that refers to The Culinary Exchange.

TT&T: Do you support any education programs or advocacies?

LMR: Our company is a vigilant and responsible corporate citizen, committed to raising its level of support for moves that safeguard the integrity of the Philippine coffee industry. We are active members of the Philippine Coffee Board, the Specialty Coffee Associations of the Philippines (SCAP) and the Americas (SCAA), the National Association of Filipino Baristas and the Mandaluyong Chamber of Commerce.

We are also PETA-compliant (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). We advocate the green revolution and support the cause for orphaned/street children. We are a silent supporter of a number of orphanages and life-giving centers.

Our operations are at par with international standards. We also regularly send our personnel to seminars and courses for personal and professional improvement. We like to think our 40 employees are a happy lot. The majority of them have tenure, and can look forward to a good retirement if they continue to uphold the company’s high standard of service.