In 2017, Filipinos consumed 170,000 metric tons of coffee according to data from the Philippine Coffee Board, its highest recorded figure to date. The statistics website Statista.com breaks down this figure further, stating that the average per capita consumption of instant coffee in the Philippines currently stands at 1.5 kilos per year. That’s a whole lot of powdered joe. Putting this into the local context, this implies that despite the proliferation of big coffee chains in practically every corner of our cities, the majority of Filipinos still consume their coffee in instant form. That’s nine out of ten, confirms the Department of Trade and Industry.
Given these figures, it’s no surprise that the coffee brand Great Taste, from Universal Robina Corporation, is among the nation’s most recognized, ranking as the second most chosen beverage brand in the Philippines for 2017 by Kantar Worldpanel, a leading consumer behavior research and analysis firm. In the Consumer Reach Point category, Great Taste comes in a very impressive fifth among more than 460 fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands. It’s come a long way from the local coffee industry’s early days, that’s for sure.
In the early 1960s, JG Summit Holdings founder and chairman emeritus John Gokongwei, Jr. surveyed the local coffee scene and sniffed a golden opportunity. “I saw there was a big market for coffee, but there were only two big companies that were involved. I decided that because the margins were really good to launch Blend 45,” revealed Mr. John to jgsummit.com.ph. The first locally manufactured coffee blend, Blend 45 was produced by Consolidated Foods Corporation, founded in 1961. (In subsequent years, the company was integrated into another one of Mr. John’s companies, Universal Robina Corporation.) Billed as one of CFC’s first home-run products, Blend 45 soon acquired its status the “Pinoy Coffee” because it of its distinctive flavor, tailored to suit the Filipino palate. The secret of its success? “The price was very good, and the product was very good. So we had good pricing, good product, and good presentation,” reveals Mr. John.
JG Summit Holdings founder and Chairman Emeritus John Gokongwei Jr. enjoying a cup of his first successful coffee product, Blend 45. Image courtesy URC.
For this last factor, Presentation, Blend 45 launched a series of memorable campaigns with the most famous celebrities of that time, including Boots Anson-Roa and her husband Pete Roa, and Susan Roces. Of course, it helped that Blend 45 had catchy jingle: once you’ve heard it, who could forget “45 choice coffee beans in a cup of Blend 45”?
Thanks to Mr. John’s winning formula of pricing, product, and presentation, Blend 45 soon became the nation’s number one instant coffee.
INNOVATION LEADING THE WAY
Innovation is one of the key attributes of any firm within the JG Summit group of companies, and perhaps its coffee business is one of the best examples of that. Despite the success of Blend 45, Mr. John believed there was still room to grow, and that’s where the next big idea hatched from. “We had to have a different coffee,” he reasons. “Great Taste is a different blend. So when we launched it, it became very successful also.”
Like a proud parent, Mr. John scoffs at being made to choose which one is his favorite. “Both!” he exclaims without hesitation.
What cannot be denied is that with the growing sophistication of Filipino coffee drinkers, Great Taste provided a more robust flavor, due in part to the way it was made. Instead of coffee powder, like Blend 45, Great Taste came in the form of concentrated coffee granules that locked in a lot of flavor and aroma. While coffee granules are common today, in the 1970s, Great Taste was the first locally made concentrated coffee. It was just the beginning in a long line of firsts. In the 1980s, the brand introduced the first refill pack in foil; long before recycling became a thing, Pinoy consumers could now re-use their Great Taste coffee jars. Then, to keep up with the faster pace of everyday Filipino life, Great Taste introduced the first complete 3-in-1 flavored coffee mix. No longer would you have to measure out and mix your coffee, sugar, and milk, the mix did this all for you. Other firsts include being the first to have resealable pouches, coffee twin packs, and the BigSave packs for value-minded consumers.
By the time the new millennium was rolling around, Great Taste was there to spruce up the local coffee scene once again. Just as the international coffee chains were becoming popular, Great Taste created two products to pique coffee drinkers’ interest: Great Taste 2in1 and Great Taste Ready to Drink (RTD). The 2in1 blend targeted purists who liked their brew strong and black, while the RTD tetra pack variant aimed to please the younger, more adventurous coffee drinker, particularly those who liked their coffee drinks chilled.
In the midst of these innovations, the three p’s were still being followed, with presentation coming by way of celebrity endorsers and, from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, a top-draw team in the Philippine Basketball Association. While Great Taste’s popular endorsers ranged from 1980s movie and television stars like Robert Arevalo and Barbara Perez to the new millennial’s heartthrobs such as Daniel Matsunaga and John Lloyd Cruz, the PBA provided another kind of marketing juggernaut. For years, top players like Ricky Brown, Philip Cezar, and Allan Caidic donned the instantly recognizable orange and brown Great Taste jersey, further bringing the brand into the homes, hearts, and minds of the Filipino consumer.
More recently, Great Taste has relaunched two of its biggest sellers, Great Taste Premuim and Great Taste 3-in-1, though with better, enriched formulations to stay abreast of trends in the coffee market. Another very popular variety these days, Great Taste White, has a typical Mr. John tale behind it. Always the entrepreneur, he finds inspiration from a variety of sources; this time, from his wife, Elizabeth. In the book, Lessons From Dad, John Gokongwei, Jr., JG Summit President and CEO Lance Gokongwei recounts this story: “Dad noticed that Mom liked her coffee with cream and sugar, and so he decided to put them all together in one pack. Dad figured that if Mom liked it, then many Filipinos will probably like it, too. And so he launched Great Taste White, one of the most successful 3-in-1 varieties. Pardon the pun, but it was an instant hit.”
Not to be outdone, Blend 45 also added to their lineup of coffee drinks in the last decade, which now includes some popular 3-in-1 varieties like the creamy Kapeng Puti and the stronger Kapeng Barako blend.
As more and more Filipinos develop a passion for coffee, you can count on Blend 45 and Great Taste to keep moving and innovating with the times, striving to provide coffee lovers with their brew of choice—black or white, strong or creamy, hot or cold—enjoyed at any time of the day.
For more information on Blend 45 and Great Taste as well as other products in URC's portfolio, please visit www2.urc.com.ph.