Monde Nissin CEO builds game-changing brands

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Monde Nissin’s biscuit factory in Sta. Rosa in the 1980s. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

In the late 1980s, Henry Soesanto got wind of a noodle production line that was stranded in a Japanese port. It was supposed to be shipped to Bangladesh, but due to unexpected flooding, the shipment was aborted. The Japanese trader had to liquidate even at a low price.

Seeing an opportunity, Soesanto convinced the late Hidajat Darmono, his father-in-law and cofounder of Monde Nissin Corp., to consider buying it. But Monde Nissin was then just into biscuits and knew nothing about instant noodles, so Darmono was initially reluctant. He eventually agreed, though, and allowed Soesanto to build the new business.

The local instant noodle market then was dominated by big brands such as Nestle’s Maggi and URC’s Nissin Ramen. The team knew that Monde had to offer something that the competitors, which mostly offered noodles with soup, didn’t have. Monde, thus, introduced pancit canton dry instant noodles in 1989 under the brand “Lucky Me!”, which turned out to be a game-changer. The bold gambit into uncharted territory paid off, as Monde ended up dominating the Philippine instant noodles segment not too long after its debut into this new segment. By 2020, it had a market share of 68 percent in terms of retail sales value, based on Nielsen market research. Although the group has gone into many other businesses since then—meat alternative (Quorn), marinade distribution (Mama Sita’s), beverage (Dutch Mill and Jelly Vit) and bread (Monde) segments—the legacy biscuit segment likewise flourished. This segment includes iconic brands such as SkyFlakes, Fita, MY San Grahams and Nissin. The group also ranked first overall in this segment in 2020, including in the crackers and cookies product groups, with a market share of 30.5 percent.

Soesanto, highly trusted by the founding family, has long been spotting golden opportunities for expansion here and abroad.

Over the decades, Monde expanded organically as well as through a series of mergers and acquisitions. MY San was a competitor for 20 years until the controlling family agreed to sell 60 percent in 2001, creating a new partnership. Other brands like Mama Sita’s and Dutch Mill are still owned by the founders, but Monde was given the long-term distribution rights.

But the biggest brand that Monde has acquired, and the reason why big institutional investors were gung-ho on its P48.6-billion initial public offering (IPO)—the biggest the local stock market has ever seen—is meat alternative producer Quorn. Apart from being the leading player in the United Kingdom, this brand has the potential for global expansion.

To date, Monde has production sites in the Philippines, United Kingdom and Thailand, It has about 5,000 employees in Asia-Pacific plus about 1,000 in the UK. Net sales in 2020 amounted to P69.94 billion, out of which it derived a net income of about P8 billion.

Following its debut on the local stock exchange, the company is now valued by the stock market at around P235 billion. But more importantly, the group has gained all the financial muscle it needs to expand across the globe.

HHenry-Soesanto-06112021

Henry Soesanto

Humble beginnings

Long before he became CEO of Monde, Soesanto endured a hard life in Indonesia. He dropped out of college to earn a living as his father’s small banking business went bankrupt. He sold seasoning in markets and likewise dabbled in sugar trading.

Then, his father fell ill, forcing the family to borrow money for medical expenses. On his death bed, he made his eldest child promise that he would return to school and finish his college degree. Soesanto kept his promise and became a chemical engineer in 1975. He, afterwards, worked for the Darmono family’s biscuit business (not part of Monde Nissin) in Indonesia. He was sent to Liverpool, United Kingdom to learn about biscuit-making, and became factory supervisor.

Soesanto moved to the Philippines 42 years ago. He was then newly married to Monica, the founder’s daughter. His father-in-law had cofounded a new biscuit company in 1979 (originally called Monde Denmark Nissin Biscuit Corp.) with his daughter-in-law, Betty Ang. Soesanto was tasked to help manage the very first biscuit factory in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Operations started quite small. “Kung maka-deliver ka ng isang Tamaraw (AUV), masaya ka na (If you can deliver one AUV-full of biscuits, you’d be happy,” Soesanto said in an interview with the Inquirer. “So more or less, you produced only two to three hours a day.” Having lived here for four decades, he speaks fluent Filipino.

When he started his career as manager, he was in charge of everything, including dough mixing. He lived in the staff house to ensure smooth operations. Over the decades, the group added more brands and opened new production sites elsewhere. New facilities were set up in Cebu, Davao and Pampanga provinces. MY San has production sites in Cainta and Calamba. Quorn has three factories in the United Kingdom. In Thailand, the group has two plants producing seasoning, biscuits and noodles.

Unlike most of its peers, Monde has a flour milling facility right beside its 18-hectare flagship production site in Sta. Rosa, eliminating the need to package and transport flour for internal requirements.

Henry (extreme left) and his wife Monica Soesanto (3rd from left) with Chef Florabel Co-Yatco and Monde Nissin employees at the Quorn booth during the Great British Festival Manila

Meat alternative

Even before Monde acquired meat alternative producer Quorn in 2015, Soesanto himself had already embraced a vegan lifestyle and even took an online course on plant-based nutrition in Cornell University.

In 1992, he developed hypertension and other heart issues and was required to take maintenance medication. He had to go back to the doctor every three months. He was just in his early 40s and realized that he had to make drastic changes in his lifestyle. He eliminated red meat from his diet, and has been a vegan for 10 years now. At age 69, he has no need for maintenance meds.

So when the opportunity to acquire Quorn came six years ago, he knew it was too good to pass up, knowing firsthand the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. Mycoprotein, the primary ingredient in all Quorn products, is a sustainable, fermented protein technology with well-documented health benefits and a closer texture to meat than other plant-based proteins. Furthermore, the mad cow disease outbreak and the horse meat (found in beef burgers) controversy in Europe in previous years had brought the meat alternative to new heights.

With fresh capital from the IPO, the group intends to safeguard its market leadership in the UK and the Philippines, while expanding its footprint to new markets.

“Our next focus (for Quorn) is USA,” Soesanto said.

About 57 percent or P26.5 billion of IPO proceeds will be used to fund Monde’s capital outlay in the next three years.

Monde has gone public precisely because the group doesn’t want to miss the exponential growth offered by the meat alternative business, which could grow from 1 percent to 10 percent of total nonmeat food sector in the next 10 years. This is based on Barclay’s research forecast that this segment could grow tenfold to hit $140-billion in revenues by the end of this decade.

“What’s important is we are a purpose-driven company. We aim to improve the well-being of people and the planet. And we try to look for a sustainable solution to food security. We aim to do good and make good at the same time,” Soesanto said. INQ


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