To ‘meat’ a need to feed

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The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2022 has concluded its search for the country’s most undaunted and unstoppable entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc., with the participation of co-presenters the Asian Institute of Management, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. In the next few weeks, BusinessWorld will feature each finalist for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2022.

Dr. Robert LoFounder and Chief Executive OfficerRDF Feed, Livestock & Foods, Inc.

INSPIRED by a personal commitment to produce high-quality food for the nation, Robert Lo grew his business from a single poultry farm into a major agri-food enterprise.

Today, RDF Feed, Livestock & Foods, Inc. (RDF) manages a variety of modern poultry and swine farms in Pampanga and Tarlac, equipped with industrial facilities that include a feed mill, a slaughterhouse, and meat-cutting and meat-processing plants. As part of its ecosystem, RDF owns and operates a meat shop chain to provide maximum value.

Mr. Lo, a veterinarian, first experienced the entrepreneur’s life in a small department store owned and run by his parents. After experiencing a setback in his educational aspirations in 1984, which he later saw as a blessing in disguise, Mr. Lo founded RDF in 1988. He started as a poultry contract grower for giant integrators but seized the opportunity to expand after recognizing what he needed: housing, management and labor. By 1991, he had opened two more poultry farms in Pampanga and stopped being a contract grower.

His entrepreneurial journey faced challenges, such as calamities and animal-related pandemics. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 destroyed his poultry farms. The rampant smuggling of chicken leg quarters during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 resulted in P10 million in losses for RDF, while several other poultry businesses were shuttered. Disaster struck once more when Typhoon Reming caused lahar flow to increase, wiping out one of his farms.

One of Mr. Lo’s biggest challenges was dealing with substandard feeds from various suppliers. Using his background in animal nutrition as a veterinary medicine graduate, he formulated his own high-quality feeds.

Realizing that he couldn’t depend on a single product for growth, Mr. Lo opened a piggery business in 2001. However, two farms were wiped out after being hit by African Swine Fever (ASF). With the help of a veterinary molecular epidemiologist and by strategically compartmentalizing his farms, Mr. Lo said the farms now operate at normal capacity without waiting for a vaccine. His investment in a laboratory for testing and in stricter vicinity controls also prepared the company for any other potential strains.

Mr. Lo sought to make the company’s food products more accessible to bigger markets by transforming his business into a vertically integrated enterprise. While selling livestock through middlemen is a common practice in the industry, he instead opened his own meat shop in 2005 to distribute his company’s products.

Fresh Options Meatshop, which began inside an Angeles City supermarket, has now grown to more than 180 branches with a chain of standalone stores and a presence in local supermarkets. When the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020, RDF quickly pivoted online, allowing it to continue providing customers with quality meats.

When faced with poor chicken sales, Mr. Lo produced value-added chicken products such as embutido, nuggets and tocino. To address inventory buildup, he added distribution channels in the form of two restaurants. Roberto’s is a Western-inspired restaurant in San Fernando, Pampanga. Hot Kitchen by Fresh Options, which provides home-cooked, ready-to-heat and ready-to-cook products, has branches in Quezon City, Mandaluyong and Taguig.

Mr. Lo champions quality and initiates various programs to support the company mission of product excellence, process efficiency, professionalism and social commitment.

One such program is the RDF University, which offers internal programs geared toward leadership development. The company also provides free education to selected employees in various institutions, such as the University of Makati, TESDA for NCII certification and the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System for junior high school education. Mr. Lo is also a member of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce, where he mentors small business owners in improving their own operations.

RDF also has various environmental, social and governance practices. Its state-of-the-art farms are accredited by the Bureau of Animal Industry for Animal Welfare and Good Animal Husbandry Practice, signifying how these farms have met the strictest requirements for animal welfare and food safety.

In its piggeries, RDF uses smart climate-controlled housing, a three-week batch program for pig flow and artificial insemination. Its poultry operations adopted a new approach toward brooding by elevating the energy level of its own feeds instead of using artificial heaters. Its use of customized chicken cage systems resulted in more efficient manure collection, helping control fly infestations in the community where the farms are located.

In his three decades of experience, Mr. Lo said he has never been afraid of failure. Instead, he noted that setbacks are lessons to learn from. Before RDF, he had other businesses that failed, such as a quail farm, a small animal clinic and Robbie’s Deli in a Hurry, a food-from-the-wall concept business that unfortunately closed after only a year.

He learned from these failures and now applies data science to gather consumer insights before developing new products. RDF’s plans for future growth involve using AI to help collect data faster and more easily, as well as more effectively analyze consumer behavior and identify trends.

Despite the scale of his business, its many moving parts and the many challenges he faced, Mr. Lo said he sees the value of the work he does to sustain food security as well as support local communities and improve the quality of the agriculture sector. This is why he emphasizes to young people: “Enjoy what you are doing so that you can stay productive and motivated even in the face of difficulties.”

The media sponsors of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2022 are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Gold Sponsors are SteelAsia Manufacturing Corp., Uratex, and Navegar. Silver Sponsors are Intellicare, OneWorld Alliance Logistics Corp., and Regan Industrial Sales, Inc. Banquet Sponsors are Uratex and MerryMart Consumer Corp.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2022 will be announced on Nov. 21 in an awards banquet at the Grand Hyatt Manila. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2023. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young (EY).

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