MEKENI, the brand behind a range of Filipino breakfast meats like tocino, hotdogs, fish balls, and longanisa, has unveiled plans to expand to the US, along with rebranding efforts.
The company said that they are partnering with Island Pacific Supermarket, a chain of Asian-Filipino supermarkets in the US West Coast. Mekeni Kikiam and Fish Balls are already available in 17 branches of Island Pacific Supermarket across California and Nevada. “If there is one thing that Filipinos living abroad miss a lot, it is probably their favorite street food,” said Mekeni President Prudencio Garcia in a statement. “We are bringing them not just authentic Pinoy flavors, but also the feeling that they are closer to home through our products,” he said.
In the same statement, Mr. Garcia said that this was just the start for Mekeni, as they are looking into making their products available in other parts of the US.
In an e-mail to BusinessWorld, Mr. Garcia gave a list of US cities where they are already available. These include: Hayward, Long Beach, Temecula, Santa Clarita, Cerritos, Elk Grove, Pittsburg, Vallejo, Union City, Fresno, National City, Oxnard, Los Angeles, West Covina in California; and Las Vegas in Nevada. “We are fortunate to find business partners that share the same vision. Expanding to other cities is in the pipeline, and we are optimistic that we can bring our products to other parts of the US this year,” he told BusinessWorld.
“Penetrating the US market means we will be able to bring pride to the country; we are bringing joy to our kababayans (countrymen) who are missing the food they love; and lastly, we will be able to provide more stable livelihood to our employees,” he said.
“Mekeni is a homegrown brand that has gotten the approval of various countries because of our commitment to food safety and quality,” he said.
Before entering the US, Mekeni was already supplying international markets such as Dubai, Bahrain, Brunei, Australia, Canada, and the UK. Mekeni was also the first Filipino food company allowed by the Japanese government to export products to the country.
“Our export journey actually started shortly after we were awarded Best Meat Processing Plant by NMIS (National Meat Inspection Service) in the early 2000s,” said Mr. Garcia. “That recognition inspired us to aspire bigger for the company; and then we decided to secure certification for ISO 22000, which sets out the requirements for a food safety management system. After less than one year of preparations, we were the first in Asia and second in the world to be certified compliant to it. We took it as a sign to further expand our horizons not only here but also abroad.”
Mekeni’s progress is also good for other companies, he said.
“What is important is that our foot is already in the door, and this opens opportunities not just for Mekeni but to all Filipino brands,” said Mr. Garcia. “Penetrating an international market means that the level of our expertise in food processing is at par with world-class standards.” On that note, in a question regarding opening manufacturing facilities abroad, he said: “This is part of our long-term plans.”
NEW LOOK, JINGLEThe company’s packaging now has a new look, and it is accompanied by a new jingle. The music video for “My Mekeni” and its accompanying dance was uploaded on the company’s Facebook page this week. Mekeni collaborated with Zumba/Fitness content creator Live Love Party, and BP Dance Studio for the jingle’s dance steps.
As for the new packaging, this is a step in the company’s evolving brand image under the theme “Timplang Atin” (Our Blend). “Welcoming 2022 with new branding signals a new era for us at Mekeni. We wanted to send a clear message that we are evolving, innovating, and growing with our customers. Today, more than ever, we want to assure our customers of the quality and taste that we bring to the table reflected throughout this new brand experience we have created. It is a Timplang Atin experience leveled up to cater to our customers’ changing needs,” said Mr. Garcia in a statement.
The new packaging is featured in new product categories, namely Mekeni Gold, Mekeni GoLite, Mekeni Specials, and Mekeni Suki Choice. Mekeni Gold products are its premium line, including specialties such as Garlic Longanisa (Philippine sausage). Mekeni GoLite’s products are healthier alternatives such as gluten-free Chicken Longanisa, zero trans-fat Yogurt Sausage, and fatless Pork Tocino (a cured meat). Mekeni Specials include the Classic Pork Tocino and the Tamis-Alat Pork Tocino, Beef Tapa (dried meat), Skinless Longanisa, Sweet Ham, Chicken Nuggets, and Sisig (chopped pigs face). Mekeni Suki Choice’s product lines include All Day Bacon, Sliced Bologna, and Luncheon Meat. Mekeni’s flagship hotdog brand, Mekeni Picnic Hotdog, also had a packaging makeover.
“For the past couple of years, we experienced highs and lows, and the last two years have been challenging not just for us but for the majority,” Mr. Garcia told BusinessWorld in his e-mail. “Today, more than ever, we would like to assure our stakeholders that the brand continues to evolve, innovate, and grow; and despite the challenges, we did not lose sight of our mission and vision. At the center of all these changes are our stakeholders who inspire us to be better.”
Mr. Garcia spoke about the company’s experience during the two years of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. “I cannot say that it is good, because generally, it was a challenging year for everyone. However, what I can assure is that in 2020, we were able to reflect on where we want to take the brand. That year, we were able to introduce a specialty line for SMEs (small-medium-enterprises); penetrate e-commerce; and, through our reseller program, provide livelihood and expand our reach. I am also proud to say that we never laid off any employee, even during the start of the pandemic.”
FAMILYThe company is still owned and operated by the founding Garcia family. Mr. Garcia is the son of Mekeni founders Felix and Medicia, both former public-school teachers from Pampanga. Last year, the company reopened its renovated flagship factory outlet in Porac, Pampanga. Called the Mekeni Marketplace, the store stands in the same place the founders first opened the business more than 30 years ago.
“Mekeni has always been family-owned since we were formally established in the 1980s. One of the many advantages of being a family-owned business is that values are preserved and are passed on to the next generation within and beyond our family; therefore, the relationship is more harmonious. Moreover, it allowed us to uphold our mission and vision since we have a greater sense of commitment,” he told BusinessWorld.
“We develop our products with families in mind. We always say that we only offer products that we ourselves will feed our families. This reflects our commitment to food safety and quality.” — Joseph L. Garcia