Philippine fruit products eye new markets abroad

15 January 2024
ITC News

Kablon Farms extends its exporting endeavours into Europe.

Child entrepreneur

Leonor Pantua, 58, is a co-owner of a family business in Tupi, South Cotabato. The company, Kablon Farms, has achieved export success in the European Union (EU).

“I have always been entrepreneurial, selling fruits at school at an early age. I would climb our dalanghita trees and take home any fruit harvested during the weekend to sell at school.  Back then, the farm was a weekender, somewhere to spend time with family,” Leonor shared.

By the time Leonor obtained a degree in Agricultural Business from the University of the Philippines, her older siblings were already managing the family farm. Choosing to further expand her horizons, Leonor left for New Zealand in 1989 and explored careers in tourism, non-profit organizations, a commercial property trust, and accountancy firms.

Back to business

Years later, Leonor picked up her childhood pastime and took the opportunity to join the company in 2022.  By then, the company had transformed Kablon into an organic farm and built a separate processing plant on another site.

“We inherited the farm from our parents. It is planted with cacao and coconut, intercropped with tropical fruit trees like durian, mangosteen, guyabano, and lanzones.”

Today, with three retail centers in South Cotabato and a distribution outlet in Davao, business is doing well. The 67-hectare organic farm and processing plant, which also produces tree-to-bar chocolates, Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) and 11 variants of fruit spreads, jams, jellies, and tropical fruit purées, currently employs 105 full-time workers.

“The processing plant helps minimise wastage and extends the shelf life of fruits, and opens opportunities for us to market a wider range of products,” Leonor said.

Hand-in-hand with government support

The Philippine government’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has always been a dependable supporter, along with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Leonor found recent initiatives such as the Usapang Exports webinar entitled Exporting Agri-Products to EU Market: Opportunities and Requirements” arranged by the DTI-Export Marketing Bureau (DTI-EMB) very helpful and an excellent source of knowledge.

“DTI has always been with us through our journey and since our inception as a small, struggling processor.  They introduced us to numerous trade fairs, seminars, and exhibits that opened our market networks and inspired us to innovate and compete,” she related.

In 2022, the company was presented with an opportunity to export its tropical spreads to Singapore.

“It was through DTI’s invitation to IFEX (International Food Exhibition) 2022 that I began to appreciate DTI’s expertise and assistance in engaging with global networks.”

Leonor said that the assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) to Kablon Farms has also been helpful for entering the EU organic market. “Their ‘Sustainable Agriculture Technology Transfer’ and numerous other seminars gave us our primary source of knowledge for the production of organic fertilizer, from vermi-composting to other kinds of fertilizers from agri-waste generated at the farm. 

My brother, Ernesto Pantua Jr, and his passion for product innovation has been the main driver in the implementation of these learnings that prepared us for the export market. ”

DA also organizes industry conferences in the region that help build connections in the industry; in fact, the Department sponsored Kablon Farms’ participation at the Salon du Chocolat Exhibition in Paris, France in 2019.

“We were able to understand the growing demand and interest of the new bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate makers.  It gave us the opportunity to meet [and] exchange ideas and products with other Philippine-based chocolatiers participating in the event. This helped foster our relationship with EU buyers.”

Expanding horizons with ARISE Plus Philippines

Leonor’s aim is to have easier, convenient, and cost-effective exports to the EU, and all of these were provided by the EU-funded ARISE Plus Philippines project. She has signed up for Export Management and Market Linkages and Quality Champion Improvement Support coaching, which would help her comply with evolving EU requirements in the future.

“We have applied many learnings from our first ARISE Plus coaching experience—from getting all product certifications/licenses completed, to being familiar with what the destination country requires, matching both to suit current regulations.”

Diversifying into Europe

Kablon Farms first started exporting to Canada in the mid-1990s, with support from the DTI and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Obtaining an organic certification from the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines in 2017 enabled the company to add another market to their export portfolio—the EU.

“My niece, Ms. Estela Duque of [UK-based] Moulinet Chocolat, introduced our dried cacao beans to artisan chocolatiers of Europe.”

The same year, a 20-foot container with about five tonnes of dried and fermented cacao beans, worth approximately PHP 1 million, was exported to a wholesale warehouse in Amsterdam.

Kablon’s fermented cacao found its niche as fine cacao used by artisan chocolatiers such as KRAK Chocolade, Solkiki, Dormouse Chocolates, whose award-winning chocolates included use of cacao beans from Kablon Farms.

The exports are alternated between the EU and the United States because Kablon Farms can only produce a limited volume of approximately 12-18 tonnes of cacao harvest annually.

The EU market seems particularly attracted to the distinctive flavour of single origin Philippine cacao.

“Our unique environment, variety and fermentation protocols give our cacao beans their distinct flavour and aroma.”

With their entry into Europe, Kablon is looking at possibilities of expanding their product offering in other countries.

Perfect planning for availing GSP Plus

Approximately 90% of Kablon Farms’ revenue come from domestic sales in supermarkets, retail shops, other food manufacturers/ end-users and online sales.

With 10% of export revenue, Leonor saw an opportunity to expand the company’s exports and is ready to make the efforts needed to become a registered exporter to the EU.

“I know about the REX number and am applying to get one soon. Utilizing the GSP Plus will eventually help us quote a better price for EU buyers.”

The Registered Exporter system (the REX system) is a system of certification of the origin of goods based on a principle of self-certification for the EU. The economic operator then becomes a "registered exporter."

Friends come to support

Kablon Farms needed to clear its export documentation in General Santos City and deal with other matters related to shipping perishable products such as fulfilment of product parameters set by client, certifications, freight and logistics. Therefore, when it was time to export organic cacao beans to the EU, the company sought guidance from Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PhilExport), the EU buyer, and Ms. Duque. 

“The biggest challenge for us was re-learning how to export other products to another country. In exporting our jams and jellies to Singapore, we managed to muddle our way through export documentations, handling commercial invoices and shipment with the help of PhilExport.”

All of this has an impact on the cost of products and the final price, so knowing the right way to go about it is crucial.

“We would like to expand our product offering to the EU, hence our interest in the ARISE Plus Export Management Coaching and Market Linkages on Virgin Coconut Oil.”


The ARISE Plus Philippines project is enabling Philippine exporters to take advantage of European Union (EU) market access and the trade privileges granted under the Generalized System of Preference (GSP+). It supports the overall EU-Philippines trade relationship and trade-related policies.

ARISE Plus Philippines is a project of the Government of the Philippines, with the Department of Trade and Industry as lead partner together with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Customs, the Department of Science and Technology, as well as the private sector. It is funded by the EU with the International Trade Centre (ITC) as the technical agency for the project.