Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lion Brand: The story of M.Y San and its legacy

Lion Brand: The story of M.Y San and its legacy

It should be "Quality Biscuit",
 but since it is also a "Quality Product", why not?

For sure everyone enjoys a pack of cracker brought from a sari-sari store. Be it "SkyFlakes" or "Fita", M. Y. San Biscuits has a variety of products that cater to all income levels and age groups. Despite intense competition from other biscuit companies, there is no absolute distinction in these markets as practically all socioeconomic groups can afford, appreciate, and enjoy M.Y. San's various products.

Anytime, from the lowly sari-sari store to the supermarket, M.Y. San products are enjoyed by everyone, given its good taste and flavour.

However, behind those familiar products comes a legacy such as a family whose patriotism, perseverance, and filial piety had kept the company thriving for decades, until its eventual takeover by Monde Nissin in 2001. 

Here's its story, hope that everyone enjoys especially those who read whilst eating.

A patriot, his ice cream, and his crackers

According to its website, M.Y. San was started from a lowly Ice Cream Parlor in then bustling street of Escolta, Manila in 1935. And its founders, the Mar Family, had taken a tradition of creating delectably wholesome snack foods, especially those of biscuits.

However, another source stated that the company was established earlier than the commonwealth era, as Mar Yuck-San established Escolta Ice Cream Parlor in Manila with the help of his two younger brothers and a fellow kinsman by the name of Mar Chew who learned the craft of baking in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

A native of Xiangshan in Guangdong China, M.Y. San moved to the Philippines in 1900, and like any other compatriots seeking for greener pastures, M.Y. San engaged in business such as building an ice cream parlor. Back then Ice Cream was a rarity as few establishments set-up ice cream parlors (maybe because of lack of ice plants around Manila!) yet afforded by many both Filipinos and Americans alike.

And according to Lou Gopal's "Nostalgia Manila", he stated that M.Y. San's "The Escolta Ice Cream Parlor" was at #69 Escolta pictured above next to Alfredo Roensch and Co. around 1910. The parlor did thrive, however, that whole section in Escolta would later be demolished, as it replaced by the well-known Crystal Arcade of Andres Luna de San Pedro, which was known as one of the most modern buildings located along the country's then premier business district.

Souce: Nostalgia Manila
But behind that lowly ice cream parlor was a different treat. As M.Y. San, along with his two younger brothers and a fellow kinsman named Mar Chew, who learned the craft of baking in Honolulu, included the making of biscuits as part of their menu. And after initial difficulties, the ice cream parlor/bakery achieved success which enabled M.Y. San to expand into new markets.

However, like any other Chinese who worked abroad in order to "bring home their bacons", M.Y. San, being an ardent patriot and supporter of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's revolutionary cause, decided to move back to his homeland after the 1912 revolution (and even set up his biscuit factory at Hong Kong!), and left his business to his partner, Mar Chew, who continued managing and even moved the site to a corner, which was beside Luna's Crystal Arcade. And by 1920, the first ovens and machinery were installed at it's first family-owned factory at Calle Sales, whilst the restaurant also served as its selling area.

How a founder's wife kept the company going
(and introducing SkyFlakes)

Fifteen years later, in 1935, after M.Y. San left the Philippines for his homeland, Mar Chew continued running both the restaurant and the biscuit business; and it continued to be thrived with more new and loyal customers. But that same year, Mar Chew died whilst M.Y. San's brothers, who also happened to be co-owners, left for Hong Kong. However, his widow, Chung Chi, re-organized the establishment as M.Y. San Biscuits Inc. (earlier as M.Y. San & Co.) with its factory at San Juan Rizal, whose logo features "LION BRAND" in it as its trademark.

The rest, as all Filipinos know, has become history. The growth of the company over the next few years was unprecedented. Although the outbreak of the Second World War with its Japanese Occupation forced the company to virtually stop operations, people behind the company never ceased.
And like any other company, M.Y. San did recover from the ashes of war. It continued to serve its customers the usual biscuit, ice cream, and snacks from its stall at Escolta beside the ruined Crystal Arcade. It was a hard but successful uphill climb for Chung Chi, her children, as well as the workers who are loyal to the company; The San Juan factory was also moved to Cainta, Rizal with its facilities expanded further.

Besides maintaining its familar brands like "Lion Soda Crackers", "Butter Cookies", and "Graham Crackers", M.Y. San also created its brand of soda crackers named "SkyFlakes", that became a well-known product in the 1960s; it also made the company thrive not just economically, but leaving it with a cultural legacy as Filipinos, in recalling familiar brands, equate M.Y. San with its signature SkyFlakes and Fita crackers after being sold from the supermarket down to the sari sari store, a staple for school recesses to those of funerals. 

Source: Nostalgia Manila
However, their decades-old restaurant in Escolta, despite being known by many for its snacks (like ice cream of course!), eventually handed over to another as they focused their time and effort in the much-lucrative biscuitry business. While numerous ads (like those below) were shown how M.Y. San was described as the "most modern biscuit company" in the Philippines, producing biscuits of various brands, catering to both loyal and new customers.

And because of that perseverance, M.Y. San hath made greater efforts to maintain its timeless prestige not just in the local biscuit industry despite competition from other biscuit companies like La Pacita, Rebisco, and Fibisco; but also to meet outside demands aborad, whose Filipino diaspora wanting to take a bite of a local biscuit such as SkyFlakes.
Thus, to help bridge the distance with homesick Filipinos abroad, M.Y. San began by first exporting to Guam from its Cainta plant in the 1970s. Since then, it has exported its products to other continents as well; today, M.Y. San is available throughout the Philippines and in some parts of the East and West coasts of the United States, Europe, Canada, the Middle East, Australia, and in South East ASia.  Its high standards for quality and use of select ingredients, which put a premium on freshly-baked goodness, hath earned numerous awards for its brands as well as the distinction of being a consistent favorite amongst various international markets.

However, in 2001, after decades of ownership under the Mar family, M.Y. San Biscuits was acquired by Monde Nissin, a diversified food company as part of its expansion and became known as "Monde M.Y. San". Originally known as "Monde Denmark Nissin" and is known for its variety of biscuits and noodles, is owned also by a Filipino Chinese named Betty Ang, known as the 19th richest person in the Philippines, with a net worth of $905 million in 2014, according to Forbes.

Currently, from its Cainta and Laguna plants, M.Y. San continues to meet demands from its loyal customers by creating SkyFlakes and other well-known brands; on the other hand, a snack corner known as "Escolta Ice Cream and Snacks" continues to thrive on the same spot where M.Y. San's "Escolta Restaurant" stood by, sadly, it ain't under Mar Chew's descendants at all.

Perhaps, only its timeless, mouthwatering legacy remained inside that age old building, where once Mr. and Mrs. Mar Chew and family invested their lives, labours, and all.