Billy Belleza and Jazz Manzano are former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). When they ended their careers and went home to Bicol, they both found a lucrative business opportunity in the Balik Pinas Program of Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines Inc. (CCBPI), the bottling arm of Coca-Cola in the country.
In July 2019, Belleza decided to end his stint in Brunei Darussalam to spend more time with family in Naga. He became interested in distributing Coke products after helping his mother manage her business, then already a Coca-Cola partner. He also noticed that his sibling’s store was not selling Coke products. “It gave me the idea,” he recounted, “‘Why don’t I sell and deliver Coke?’”
He soon enrolled his water-refilling business, Andre Water Station, as a direct wholesaler. A few weeks later, during the “traslacion” of the image of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia, he was delivering his first batch of Coke products to stores in the city.
Operating even during the lockdown, the business grew into a stills distributor in 2020. He secured a subsidy for a tricycle to kick-start his business; now he has a mini truck and a bigger warehouse.
He noted: “In the short amount of time I’ve worked with Coke, I see that there’s a future.”
The Manzanos decided to partner with Coca-Cola in March 2020 after Jazz and his son returned home to start a business. “We thought: ‘Why not venture with Coke?’ We approached the Coca-Cola team, and the team here immediately helped us.” Because of fast turnover and high demand even during the COVID-19 lockdown, operations grew swiftly.“Actually, saro ining blessing (it was actually a blessing),” said Manzano when asked about Nagajac Beverages Trading, his family’s Coca-Cola direct wholesaling business, also in Naga.
From a first order of 20 cases of Coca-Cola, 10 cases of Royal True Orange and 10 cases of Sprite, Nagajac reached an average of 4,000 cases of Coke beverages monthly by July 2020.
Belleza and Manzano are only two of dozens of success stories under the Balik Pinas Program, a CCBPI initiative launched in 2019 to provide business opportunities for returning OFWs and expanded in 2020 to help OFWs who had lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19. Beneficiaries become Coca-Cola distributors, wholesalers or community resellers.
Balik Pinas trains and guides beneficiaries from the very beginning, assisting them in developing a business model and managing inventory and cash flow. CCBPI continues providing support until the returning OFWs have a sustainable and profitable business on their hands.
CCBPI is making the Balik Pinas Program bigger, set to launch an expanded version called Bangon Pinas in June 2021. The company will be providing the same opportunities not only to what has now grown to 500,000 returning OFWs according to official figures in April, but also to micro, small and medium entrepreneurs (MSMEs) and unemployed domestic workers.
In 2019, MSMEs made up 99.5 percent of businesses in the country. Meanwhile, in February, the Philippines registered unemployment and underemployment rates of 8.8 and 18.2 percent, respectively. Both economic drivers have suffered immensely during the pandemic.
“By providing livelihood opportunities, especially to those who suddenly found themselves without stable incomes and unable to provide for their families, we remain true to our pledge to help revive the pandemic-stricken Philippine economy via job and income generation,” said Gareth McGeown, president and CEO of CCBPI. If you belong to such groups, you may call the Coca-Cola contact center at tel. 028813-COKE (2653).
While looking for more business partners, CCBPI has not turned its back on its existing MSME partners nationwide: over 5,000 Coca-Cola distributors and wholesalers. Since the lockdowns, the company has given some P1 billion in extended payment terms and adjustments in credit limits. It also gave away around P36 million in incentives to partners that have continued to operate, including discounts, free goods and protective equipment and rental support.
To secure workers and customers, CCBPI helped its partner MSMEs transition to e-payment modes. The company sped up its two-year digitalization road map and now uses direct-to-bank and online modes to reduce risks and transition to a future in e-commerce. It trained partners to use the platforms, including PayMaya and Dragonpay. It incentivized those who embraced the shift with great freebies.
CCBPI sees all these initiatives and its “people first” attitude as its responsibility to the Filipino nation that it has served for 109 years now; and plans to provide with happiness and progress for more years to come. Amid the pandemic, the company has stepped up to help the nation recover faster, better, stronger.
“We are confident that we have generated value for all our stakeholders, employees and, most especially, for all the communities of which we are a part—by investing locally, providing jobs for Filipinos, working with suppliers, and satisfying customers and consumers all over the country,” said McGeown.
Belleza, Manzano and many more across the Philippines are living proof.