Inspiring the Future

Inspiring the Future

When I look back, I realize how fortunate we were in surviving the past nine years. It's truly a combination of hard work, persistence and luck.

Paco Magsaysay

Artisanal ice cream maker represents the best of local business

It has been nine years since Francisco “Paco” Magsaysay, chief executive officer of artisanal ice cream brand Carmen’s Best — known for a range of fun and unconventional flavors, as well as unique twists on the traditional — began selling across the country.

Magsaysay says their products have gained such popularity that they earned themselves space on the shelves of select supermarkets and tourist boutiques and menus of upmarket restaurants and airlines. He even opened an ice cream parlor at the Power Plant mall in Rockwell, Makati City three years ago and a shop in Singapore’s “Historic District” with local partners a year ago.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the business shifted to online selling, which his eldest son Jaime took charge of, and began recruiting community resellers who helped keep their products accessible to as many customers as possible.

Shifting to e-commerce

Thanks to a Laguna-based dairy farm belonging to former senator Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay Jr., Paco’s father, there was a source of excess milk to produce delicacies such as cheese, pastillas, (milk-based sweets), flavored milk, and ultimately, the ice cream, named after the younger Magsaysay’s only daughter, Carmen.

“We started selling ice cream in 2011 to be an ‘example’ to other entrepreneurs as to what you could do using fresh milk,” he narrates. “Our idea was to set an example of how premium our fresh milk was, which could make other premium dairy products. After all, isn’t ice cream a dairy product?”

Being the first super premium quality ice cream manufacturer in the country, it has been difficult for Magsaysay to gauge how well they were doing. “We don’t have any idea what the ideal market share should be,” he admits. “We don’t have a business model we can emulate.”

Despite this, Magsaysay remains grateful: “[Carmen’s Best has] grown every year we have been in business. I feel that there have been more good things happen to our company, compared to bad things, so we continue to grow [it].

“This year was a test to our company, because our restaurant, coffee shop, hotel, resort and airline accounts just stopped ordering from us,” he reveals. “We thought we had to stop operations during the early part of the lockdown. It was scary as I was worried about our staff and paying back the loan.”

Thanks to the easing of quarantine restrictions in a bid to revive the nation’s beaten economy, the last few months have been better. “Our sales started to pick up,” he reports.

Magsaysay apparently also kept busy, as he announced their new line of ice cream, J&M Naughty and Nice Cream, which helped boost sales and has already begun getting a “strong following.” This ice cream buff appears to enjoy naming their product lines after his children, as this latest selection honors his two sons, Jaime and Mikey.

“It’s alcohol-infused and is only sold in single serve cups,” he explains. Designed to appeal to the above-18 crowd only, J&M Naughty and Nice Cream comes in four flavors: Secret Breakfast, made with a cream base, cornflake cookies, Kahlua and bourbon; Irish Coffee, which has a coffee base and Bailey’s; Brown Russian, featuring a chocolate base with Kahlua and whiskey; and Kahlua Coffee, which is simply a coffee base plus Kahlua.

Magsaysay also shares what he calls their “value” line, called Arctic Ice Cream. “Its main market is our Horeca — Hotel, Restaurants and Catering — accounts. It’s priced lower than the large manufacturers’ ice cream and it tastes better,” he says.

As with any business operating amid a crisis, there are still challenges. In the case of Carmen’s Best, this included shifting to e-commerce.

“When we first looked at migrating our website into an e-commerce site, we found the cost prohibitive,” he recalls. “So, we kept on selling through our Facebook fan page as well as our Instagram page. It’s still being done that way.”

Anyone who takes a look at their Facebook page — filled with expertly shot images of their mouthwatering, creamy, frozen delights — will find that their followers number more than a whopping 300,000. Yet Magsaysay is thinking bigger. “We hope to come up with a platform that will utilize several depots around Metro Manila and work with third party delivery companies that use thermal bags, as our products need to be kept frozen.”

Inspiring others

This ice cream lover is not only inspired; he inspires. During the past months, Magsaysay has also been an advocate for young and aspiring entrepreneurs. “Many people want to hear the story of how we grew Carmen’s Best Ice Cream. When I look back, I realize how fortunate we were in surviving the past nine years. It’s truly a combination of hard work, persistence and luck.”

“I also like to share our story as people tend to think we just woke up one day and the company was a success,” he explains further. “It does not happen that way.”

To date, Magsaysay has given talks, tackling a range of topics to a number of institutions. He has spoken about digital advertising and prioritizing customer experience at AIBP Insights, a discussion series attended by ASEAN businesses; positioning recognizable products for the new normal to the Philippine Junior Marketing Association; e-commerce and retail strategy at the Seamless Philippines Conference, a virtual event featuring presentations and debates from industries such as banking and e-commerce; and e-commerce in the new normal for Globe Telecom’s business solutions arm, Globe Business.

Last June, Magsaysay was a panelist at the E-Commerce Entrepreneurs Summit in Cebu, and as recently as last month, sat as a guest judge at this year’s EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which recognizes high school, undergraduate and graduate students who own and operate their own businesses. “In October, I was asked to be a mentor in AIM [Asian Institute of Management],” he adds.

The past year has not been easy, it’s true, but this CEO gamely accepted the challenges that came — and still continue to come — his way. “The last several months truly tested how tough we were as a team,” he declares. “The lockdown made us think of selling our ice cream a different way. It forced us to look for a new way of reaching our customers.”

“[Our customers] were messaging us through our social media accounts wondering how to buy our ice cream,” he narrates. “That is why we came up with our Community Program as during the early part of the lockdown, we were not even allowed outside our respective villages.

“Despite the difficulty, we were fortunate to have been part of so many people’s lives the past eight years, which made us realize that we had a commitment to serve our customers, but in a different way.”

Magsaysay notes that he has been able to do more despite the slowdown. “There are times that I’m able to have six to eight meetings a day,” he says. “This is only possible as all meetings are now done online. There is no more excuse to be late to a meeting. I’m also able to be more efficient as the time spent in traffic before is now used as productive time.

“I just miss meeting people face to face as there is still a difference talking and meeting with people compared to meeting online.” Asked how he spends his time outside of work, he replies: “I never really had much of a personal life. I tend to keep myself busy with my work, which I fortunately love.”

Recently, Magsaysay became a first-time grandfather to Jaime’s baby daughter, Tali, which has left him ecstatic, and surely, given him fresh reason to come up with a new product line.