Cebu Pacific flew 19.7 million passengers in 2017, but this year it’s aiming even higher, seeking to transport 22 million travelers—that’s a lot of mouths to feed. JB Bueno is the man tasked with this daunting job.
Though he may look young, JB has already more than 25 years of work experience, with close to two decades spent in the catering industry. What may come as a further surprise is his educational background—he has a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of the Philippines—which doesn’t sound at all related to his line of work. As JB tells it, however, this very technical background was a perfect match for his personality and the career path it led him. His first job was for a conglomerate, joining the quality assurance team of its ice cream division in the early 1990s. This was followed by a job abroad, but soon he yearned to come back to the Philippines. “I think it is part of the U.P. culture. We were trained to give back to the country, and I felt I wasn’t doing this when I was abroad,” he says.
It was 20 years ago that JB joined an airline catering company, hired as a quality and hygiene manager. “I soon learned that airline catering has very high and rigid standards, especially when it comes to food safety,” he says. Sent to Europe for training, JB became acquainted with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system, or HACCP, a food safety system developed by NASA and Pillsbury that lowers risk during every step of the food preparation process. It serves as the standard for airline food safety today.
Over the years, as his duties and responsibilities in various companies grew, JB took further studies, completing the MBA-Regis program at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business in 2002, augmenting that with another diploma in Organizational Development from De La Salle University in 2006. Following his 11-year-stint with an airline catering company, JB had relatively short spells with a few other firms before finding the right fit with Cebu Pacific, which he has been with for four years now.
“I’d like to picture my work as partly commercial, which is the business side, and very heavy on the operations side,” says JB. On the commercial aspect, he says: “Whatever we serve on board, whatever we put inside the aircraft, what we sell, and how much it will be sold, it is us who decides. The selection of products, selection of suppliers, managing these suppliers, negotiating with them, developing quality requirements, it’s all our responsibility.”
Next, JB deconstructs the operations side of his job. “Basically, wherever the aircraft goes, our team is there to service it. Let’s say a flight arrives, we’ll send out a big truck to load it with all the items a flight requires. Magazines, menu cards, universal precautionary kits, trolleys, containers—usually these are all loaded by our catering trucks. We take out the used items and replenish them. It sounds easy, but it is very taxing. It takes a lot of coordination and logistics.”
As expected, his eyes light up when discussing food, and you can feel the excitement in his voice when he talks about the latest developments in Cebu Pacific’s expanding menu. “We are changing a lot,” he says, “even the souvenirs and merchandise.” There are, however, some bestsellers that will stay on, such as the cheese rolls and chocolate chip cookies, as it is expected that passengers will continue to look for them. One of JB’s challenges now is changing some habits we have when flying on low-cost carriers. “My observation is, many Filipinos who are used to flying Cebu Pacific don’t usually order meals before their flight. They only order when they get hungry. We’d like to change this mentality. When they book a flight, they should also consider their meals. We’re trying to make them more aware of their food options when they buy their tickets.” Currently, Cebu Pacific serves around 3,500 pre-ordered meals for passengers, plus 1,500 meals for crew members every day.
So what goes into shaping an airline menu? A lot, apparently. “Right now, we’re trying to showcase Filipino flavors and dishes. Staples like beef kare kare, pares, chicken sisig. But we realized we also need international cuisine, which we have, but not a lot. So we kebabs, chicken, salted fish. At the end of the day, food is for nourishment. When you design food menus, we have to consider the amount of calories it has, and it has to meet a certain weight. But we also take into consideration the popularity of a dish. Passengers must be able to say, hey, I know what this is. Or if it’s new, it has to be interesting enough to entice a passenger to try it. Another factor is the price. The challenge is to find a good price but at the quality we demand. We have to get reliable suppliers who meet our standards and those of the Bureau of Quarantine. I cannot compromise on safety.”
JB oversees an extensive logistics chain, interacting daily with a variety of people with a multitude of backgrounds, from microbiologists, food technologists, nutritionists, and dietitians, to chefs, pilots, warehouse staff, and accountants. For sure there are a number of good careers available in Cebu Pacific, but besides your diploma, JB says there’s one thing that you must have to make it in this challenging environment: a positive attitude. “Yes, your degree and your school are important, but what counts most in my opinion is your attitude towards work. In Cebu Pacific, the culture is familial, but also very professional, so it is important how you interrelate with the people around you,” says JB. “We need people who have a good attitude toward work and the people around them. If you have that, you will excel in Cebu Pacific.”
For more information about Cebu Pacific, visit www.cebupacificair.com. If you'd like to know more about career opportunities in Cebu Pacific or the other companies within JG Summit Holdings, please visit www.jgsummit.com.ph/careers.