From a backyard enterprise to a globally-recognized food processing plant, Mekeni’s products are now available in Asian supermarkets worldwide. But for the people behind the brand, success goes beyond quality food. In fact, it’s all about family.
Mekeni President Pruds Garcia has been at the helm of the family business for several years. His parents Felix and Medicia Garcia started the company in 1986. From backyard poultry and piggery, the couple was able to put up a home-based chicharron and tocino enterprise.
“My parents were public school teachers, their salary was only P200 a month. I was selling eggs in the market until I was in high school,” Pruds shares.
Hard work and determination fueled the growth of Mekeni. In time, all five sons finished college. Pruds was working in Saudi Arabia for several years when Mount Pinatubo erupted. He received a letter from his father asking him to come home, join the company, and help their neighbors in lahar-covered Porac. His father wanted to expand the company so they can offer jobs and help the community recover.
“I only planned to stay in Saudi Arabia for three years, but I stayed longer because the salary was good. The letter from my father had such strong words, he said why serve another country, why not serve the community that helped you?” Pruds recalls.
As an obedient son, he packed his bags and returned to Porac.
Pruds attributes the success of Mekeni to his father’s commitment to serve. He added that his parents never accepted any job promotion, despite the pay increase, because that would mean moving to another place. “My parents wanted to stay in Porac.”
Having gone through several challenges while running the company, he viewed the current pandemic as an opportunity to stay strong and help the community. After Pinatubo, the company faced foot and mouth health crisis that affected meat processing plants, this was followed by the Asian crisis in ‘97 and the financial crisis in 2008.
“We survived all that. We do not aim to be among those giant companies. Our mission is to help our community,” Pruds says.
From a company that started with 40 employees in 1986, the company now employs a total of 1300 people.
Without the values instilled by their parents, Mekeni would have easily closed shop during the pandemic. “Companies bigger than ours, have stopped operations. But then, we are in business because of the community. Eto yung maganda hindi kami bibitiw. My obligation is not only for our family, but for the families of our people.”
For Pruds, the pandemic was an opportunity to grow the business and to help others. He noticed a growing number of food stalls, vendors, and small business owners selling all kinds of food during the lockdown. The company decided to release Bayani, a street food line for entrepreneurs. Its product range includes Filipino snack favorites such as siomai, siopao, squid balls, fish balls, chicken balls, and kikiam.
“I told my team, let’s give them quality products that they can be proud of. Let’s help them in the kitchen, let’s teach them food handling, so they can grow their business. We are not just helping them put food on the table, if they are successful they can send their children to school and become entrepreneurs.”
The pandemic also inspired Pruds to ease the homesickness of OFWs “I was also an OFW and it can be very lonely. A lot of them cannot go home because of the pandemic. Let’s bringing our products to them para mabawasan ang pangungulila. At least they have something to talk about with their families. We need to inspire our OFWs because most of them save so that can start their own business. We need entrepreneurs now so that people can have jobs.”
Mekeni Kikiam and Fish Balls are available in all 17 branches of Island Pacific Supermarket across California and Nevada. They are also planning to bring their flagship products like tocino, gluten-free chicken longanisa, and hotdog to the US. Before the US, Mekeni has been supplying its products in Dubai, Bahrain, Brunei, Australia, Canada, and UK. Mekeni is also the first Filipino food company allowed by the Japanese government to export products to the country.
Mekeni is now a global brand, but for Pruds, his brothers, and their over a thousand employees, it will always symbolize the family tradition of serving their community.