50-year-old lola’s legacy that turned down SM | Inquirer Business

50-year-old lola’s legacy that turned down SM

/ 01:03 AM June 19, 2011

One of Lola Abon’s workers packs the topselling durian candies.

DAVAO CITY – At 2 in the afternoon, the Lola Abon’s store in Matina is swarmed with people. They huddle around the shelves full of freshly-cooked durian candies and other sweet delights there’s hardly any room to move.

“At peak season, magkabuang mi og gukod sa [we have a hard time meeting the] demand,” says Roberto Saniel, the president of the family corporation which has become a household name for its durian candies in Davao. “We need to expand the store some more. Sometimes, just to accommodate our customers, we post another staff under the shed outside with a basket of products to sell.”


Lola Abon started off in 1956 as a one-woman candy-making business before it grew into a family corporation whose name has spread far and wide in the country and abroad for its delectable durian products.


Lola Abon was Saniel’s grandmother. She was Abondia del Puerto Raaken, who used to love cooking pastillas de leche (candies made out of condensed milk), a sweet delicacy in Cagayan de Oro, where she came from before her family came to settle in post-war Davao.

She used to sell these in government offices and school canteens in the city. “She used to cook it plain until somebody told her to try adding some flavor, and she started experimenting with durian, a fruit that was so abundant here,” recalls Saniel, a six-year-old at the time.

Even then, the flavor became a bestseller. Everything started from there.

When Lola Abon passed away, Saniel’s mother Melor Raaken-Saniel took over. When his mother chose to retire in the early 2000, Saniel, as the eldest child, assumed as head of the family business. They registered the family corporation with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2002.

Lola Abon’s store sits in a quiet neighborhood tucked away from the madness of malls and commercial centers. Except for a small hardly noticeable sign along the highway and the waft of sweet durian smell in the air, nothing could probably lead a stray newcomer here. And yet, people always found their way to the Lola Abon store.

Durian pioneers


Lola Abon was only one of the two pioneers in the durian candy making business in Davao but the company has developed a loyal customer following through the years.

A worker carries a basket of freshly-packed candies to the store.

Amidst the plethora of durian candies now flooding the market, one would always crave for the taste of the Lola Abon’s durian candy, its soft, pliant smoothness melting in one’s mouth, a sliver of the durian pulp almost discernible.

“If you want to buy durian candy, make sure it is from Lola Abon’s,” is a word of sagely advice one often hears from “pasalubong” buying crowd in and outside of Davao City.

For one could not find the flavor and texture of Lola Abon’s durian candies from any other durian candies in the market.

“The secret lies in the milk,” says Saniel, recalling how the volume of their milk consumption had once attracted the attention of the owner of a leading milk brand in the country who visited their durian candy factory in the mid 90s.

“He could not believe we consumed that much milk, that’s why he came by for a visit to find out,” he says.

Saniel says they were also very choosy about the kind of milk that they use because it also affects the taste of their product. “We have experimented with other brands of milk products and realized that we can only achieve the taste by using this particular milk brand,” he says.

That’s why, amidst rising cost of commodities, Lola Abon never cut on their milk and other ingredients. “We’d rather risk losing a few customers by increasing prices, rather than change our ingredients which could affect quality,” he says.

He says Lola Abon has probably increased prices 20 times since they started but the customers kept coming.

Turning down SM

Roberto Saniel, one of Lola Abon’s grandchildren, is the president of the family-owned corporation.

Now, Lola Abon is distributed in practically all commercial establishments in Davao, in fruit stands frequented by tourists, in the airport and in Ecoland terminal. Wholesalers also come to distribute the goods in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and even in the Taguig branch of Market! Market! in Metro Manila.

When SM City Davao started displaying the Lola Abon products in its pasalubong area, the SM City grocery store saw how fast the items were selling and followed suit.

Saniel says SM City once asked the family enterprise to distribute their Lola Abon products nationwide but they turned down the proposal because they would have a hard time monitoring them when they reach other parts of the country.

“We wouldn’t know which products are selling and which ones are not,” he says.

“Besides, our product is highly perishable,” he adds. “We only allow it to stay on display for a month, after which, we pull it off the shelf. We could no longer do this if we distribute our products in areas beyond our reach.”

Lola Abon’s grandchildren have divided among themselves the responsibilities in running the family business. While Saniel’s mother Melor sits as head of the board, and Saniel as president, the rest of the siblings and in-laws take part in the purchasing, production, sale, and marketing of the products.

Product lines

Although the durian candy remains the company’s top seller, Lola Abon has also developed 24 other product lines, which included mangosteen-flavored candies, yema delights and ice cream. The market can gobble up fast 1,000 packs of durian candy bars and 1,000 packs of diced durian candies the company has been producing each day and is not yet satisfied.

“We still fall short of the demand,” Saniel says.

With the demands for pasalubong spiking during summertime, Christmas and during big conventions in the city, Saniel says the company has been thinking of using processing equipment to mass produce their product.

Earlier, they have invited mechanical engineers to come up with an equipment that could process the candies but realized that the equipment they have designed so far could not yet do the work without sacrificing quality. “The equipment they’ve come up so far would change the texture and the color, so, we set it aside for the moment,” he says. “

Nothing can replace yet the cooking vats, where the candies are mixed and stirred or the actual human hands to flatten and to slice it,” he says. At present, the company employs six cooks and 24 workers to pack the products.

Saniel was not worried at all whether newcomers will copy the Lola Abon’s recipe.

“We continue to rely on Lola Abon’s good name,” he says, adding that some of their cooks have been pirated by other companies venturing into the durian-making business.

“We have been able to keep up Lola Abon’s good name through the years so as long as we keep up the quality of our products, we believe that our customers will keep coming back to us,” he says.

He says that instead of advertising in newspapers, they rely more on the word-of-mouth kind of promotion, encouraging rent-a-car companies and taxi cabs to drop a passenger to their store in exchange for a bag of candies.

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Among the customers who emerged with bags full of candies was a woman egging her Korean friend to buy Lola Abon’s products.

TAGS: Business, Family, SM

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