From ketchup to soy sauce

The story begins with a father, a mother and their son who moved from Sorsogon to Metro Manila to find better opportunities in a bigger city.

The initial plan in the aftermath of World War II was to produce ketchup.

During that time, squash or calabasa – not the expensive tomatoes – was used to make ketchup, another type of seasoning that Filipinos developed a taste for during the American occupation.

Producing ketchup, however, proved to be quite a challenge for the enterprising family.

Their first batch was too watery that it flowed out like water. The second batch, on the other hand, was too thick that it would not come out of the bottle. The two failed batches of calabasa ketchup was enough to make them change directions.

And so they decided to produce soy sauce instead. But making soy sauce proved to be even more complex.

Producing soy sauce required constant temperature, salinity, controlled growth of the koji bacteria and more importantly, a long period of time to ferment the unique taste that perfectly suits the Filipino palate.

Eventually, in the late 1940’s, the first batch was made and sold.

This first batch was made in the small backyard of the family home in Grace Park, Caloocan. The soy sauce mixture was fermented for about a year before it was deemed good enough to be brought to the market.

But once sold, Filipinos were immediately hooked and they have remained loyal since the fist batch entered the market.

“Yellow” hits the streets

The first few batches of soy sauce were sold under the brand “Yellow“. The founders did not know much about branding or labeling at that time, hence the simple yellow brand.Initially, the soy sauce was sold house to house in the streets of Metro Manila using horse-drawn carriages.

Perhaps due to that tinge of sweetness that comes from the long fermentation or maybe due to the color of the yellow label, customers started to refer to it as toyo Piña or “pineapple soy sauce” in English.

Taking its cue from its loyal customers, the brand Marca Piña meaning pineapple mark or pineapple brand was born in 1948.

The company name at the start was National Soy Factory. But in the late 1950s, to comply with a government policy prohibiting the use of the word ‘national’ in private company names, the founders changed the name to Balanced Food Corporation.

The family bravely took on the corporate name as a testament to the taste of its soy sauce, which struck that delicate balance between sweetness and saltiness, bitterness and umami.

It is this elusive balanced taste that quickly endeared Marca Piña to the customers.

As demand grew, the need for a bigger space emerged, thus the move to an expansive property in Valenzuela.

But in just a few years, thanks to the consistent rise in the brisk demand for Marca Piña soy sauce, the Valenzuela property was no longer big enough to hold production, given the time – at least a year – that it took to properly ferment soy sauce.

Modern methods step up production

Fortunately, the son of the founder learned of a new, more modern production method that sped up the breaking down of the soy protein into amino acids. What took a year can now be reduced to just a few months.This new technology allowed Balanced Food to produce more soy sauce from the same equipment and thus production was kept at the Valenzuela plant for another 10 years.

By the 1960s, Marca Piña became a household name, even without the benefit of any advertising. it was word of mouth, and testimonies from satisfied customers that propelled sales, leading to the steady and healthy increase in annual product demand.

Business continued to grow in the 1970s, such that even with the improved production methods, the Valenzuela plant became too small for its needs, leading to the construction of a new factory, this time in Quezon City.

A more significant development was that many customers started to refer to Marca Piña as pinakamasarap meaning the most delicious, the best tasting soy sauce.

The family was so touched and honored by the compliment that they officially changed the company name yet again, from Balanced Food to Piñakamasarap Corporation, a revered name that it has kept to this day.

Piñarap Boy endears himself to Filipinos

The brand image became even more ingrained in Filipinos’ minds and hearts with the airing in the mid 1970’s of the heartwarming commercial featuring a precocious child later called the Piñarap Boy. This all happened by divine intervention.
The original plan was for the 30-second television commercial to feature a child star. However, a last-minute change threw off the shooting schedule and the child star was no longer available at the same time as the director and the film crew.

As frantic discussions were taking place, the director saw the founder’s grandson running around, gleefully playing in the office.

The precocious three-year-old was cast to replace the child actor, and a little star was born.

During the take, the young boy was asked to say “Marca Piña, Piñakamasarap.” But even with his best effort, the words that came out of his young mouth was “Marca Piña, Piñarap!“

They tried over and over again to stick to the script , but the director eventually gave up and KEPT the young boy’s enthusiastic exclamation.

The commercial succeeded far beyond their most optimistic expectations. And until now, more than 40 years later, those who saw the commercial still fondly remember the little “Piñarap Boy.”

Marca Pina conquers foreign shores

The goodwill and accompanying sales carried the company through to the 1980s, when facilities were further improved and Marca Piña conquered foreign shores, with foreign companies coming to the Philippines to order Marca Piña.

The beloved soy sauce was sought by the growing communities fo Filipinos overseas as well as other Asians who use soy sauce in their cooking. Growth prospects had never been better.

Unfortunately, with the 1990s came a host of daunting challenges, including political instability, labor unrest and the deliberating Asian currency crisis that hampered the company’s ability to constantly produce the much-loved Marca Piña soy sauce.

The situation became so challenging that for three years, Marca Piña was absent from the market, and rival companies rushed to fill the void. The turbulent decade was also marked by consolidation, in that soy sauce industries that used to be dominated by family-run enterprises were now being operated by large conglomerates.

Pinakamasarap goes back to the market

Despite the challenges, Marca Piña decided to come back to the market.Most companies would not have survived being out of the market for a long three years, but with Marca Piña’s strong history and heritage, it was able to recapture a sizable market share.

Although pitted against deep-pocketed competition, Piñakamasarap Corporation stood its ground and decided to remain a family corporation. It believed that to remain a family business was the ideal way to go forward, with the employees, management and owners working hard together to deliver a world-class product to he global market.

The company is proud that in the late 1990s, there were employees who had been with the company since it started, even before the Marca Piña brand was even coined.

The family’s perseverance and unwavering faith in the virtues of its product line fortunately paid off as the turn of the century came with it a new sense of optimism, hope and new growth prospects.

The company continued to modernize, investing in the latest machinery and adhering to high production standards that earned it a HACCP certificaiton. At the same time, it decided to widen its product offering, from soy sauce it ventured into fermenting its own vinegar.

Piñakamasarap Corporation is one of the few companies that produce their own 100% naturally fermented vinegar, which means that it does not have the artificial acid that other companies typically use. The sourness is natural and does not have that bitter aftertaste that comes from artificial glacial acid.

Pinarap Boy all grown up

Today, with the Piñarap Boy all grown up and heading management, the company has further expanded its portfolio to include fish sauce, oyster sauce and barbeque sauce to cater to the changing tastes of its customers. It has also expanded its sales to over 40 countries.While the company has evolved with the times, from using horse-drawn carriages to exporting 40 foot containers full of proudly Filipino-made products abroad, from backyard to operations to state of the art facility, it has not changed its character and has remained true to its core values.

The company is firmly holding on to these values of integrity and adherence to the highest ethical as well as production standards to carry it through the next decades, with the stewardship passing fully to the fourth generation well steeped in the philosophy of excellence established by the founders back in the 1940s.

It is an enviable heritage that customers can trust to guide the production of every Marca Piña bottle that occupies a place of pride in Filipino homes.