From making clothes for people to providing chilled beef to meat shops, Mario Tan Ong has turned a family-owned business alive and mooing.
In 2006, Tan Ong, president of D’Meter Fields Corp., started by selling fattened backyard grown cattle, and he has been slaughtering and selling them as chilled beef carcasses to meat shops since 2008.
The company holds office in Quezon City and has a 20-hectare farm in San Simon, Pampanga, where Tan Ong fattens nearly 3,000 heads of imported cattle per quarter.
Tan Ong said their cattle are imported from Australia “where they have more consistent quality compared to the local backyard cattle we see when we travel across the country.”
D’Meter Fields Corp., which initially employed 50 people, ventured into building its own abattoir, complete with cold chains facilities, bringing the total number of employees to over 150.
“Our relationship with our employees is excellent. Suppliers and customers are like partners to us,” he said. “Both our employees and the people we consider as partners trust us, and in return, we make sure we are worthy of that trust.”
Tan Ong has been providing the country’s major meat shops with chilled beef carcasses, which are made into different unbranded prime cuts like short loin (for T-bone and porterhouse steaks), sirloin, ribeye and tenderloin. “We supply many of the major meat shop chains in Luzon,” he said.
“Most Filipinos want to see fresh beef carcasses hanging from hooks in meat shops and wet markets. They usually buy them warm or chilled beef—not frozen,” he said. “Usually, imported boxes of commercial grade meat are the frozen secondary cuts or trimmings used for manufacturing beef.”
Tan Ong is happy that his company has found a market even if most Filipinos prefer fresh chilled chicken and pork. “Most Filipinos still find beef to be expensive, but there are still beef lovers,” he said.
One kilogram of prime cut beef retails for P300 to P800—depending on the cut—while chicken retails from P115 P130 a kilo and pork from P180 to P250 a kilo.
Quotas were used as trade protection for Philippine-made garments when Tan Ong was in the garments business.
Surprisingly, his family business grew right after the lifting of US quotas. But soon after, the appreciation of the peso due to the weakening of the US economy made him think that they needed to diversify.
Initially, the 20-hectare farm was intended for the relocation of the garments facility to improve its competitiveness, but he felt that the garment industry would soon collapse.
Needing to make good use of the property, he raised cattle and fattened them before selling them as beef carcasses to meat shops.
Tan Ong said he ventured into this business because there was room for improvement and innovation. “Since I was the new kid on the block, I wasn’t constrained by the conventional wisdom in the field, and therefore I would think outside the box and do the unexpected. After studying the numbers, I concluded the potential gain outweighed the risk,” he said.
But soon Tan Ong experienced a number of problems in his new business like supply, cost and consistent quality of the fodder. “Everything happens when you start from zero experience. Your mistakes are your tuition, but it’s well worth the price.”
He said like any good businessman, he had faced these problems by investing in research and development for he must know the business and understand it well.
But there are other important investments which Tan Ong must put in the business – the values of hard work, discipline, integrity and excellence.
So far, the company is doing well and the market is good. “The demand for and supply of beef carcasses have been consistent,” he said. “But market growth is rather slow.”
Family business first
Although Tan Ong is not yet like a “contented cow,” he wants to continue the family business.
He is currently professionalizing the organization and pursuing activities like drafting a constitution to guide both the company and the family. “We are making progress, and most family members are open-minded,” he said.
The family has been undergoing coaching on governance and leadership, as well as on relationships and succession. “There are many options right now, but the first step is choosing a successor,” he said.
Tan Ong, married and with a son, is the third child in a Chinese family of six siblings. He manages the cattle business with his family and siblings. His son, although with a business of his own, still develops the software for the IT infrastructure of the business which his wife manages.
“We didn’t inherit this. My two sisters, my wife and I decided to stay together and diversify into this business,” he said.
“Right now, we’re hands on, but we intend to transition from micro to macro,” he said, adding that they must rely first on themselves.
“We’re doing everything we can to make the company a place worthy of attention of outsiders,” he said. “We wanted to gain first-hand knowledge of the trade before bringing anyone in.”
He is happy with their present customers, who trust their high quality meat. And as long as there are Filipinos craving for beef, Mario Tan Ong’s family business will continue growing.