No Snake Oil, Just Herbs
By Anna Gamboa Gan
(From Manila Bulletin November 14, 2010 issue)
November 14, 2010, 3:46pm
At first glance, Ruby Cruz seems like any other participant selling herbal remedies at the Megatrade Hall’s event emphasizing organic solutions for health-conscious Filipinos. Eager to have people try their latest product, a dietary supplement called Hydrolean, she chats with visitors sampling the vermillion-colored drink, explaining that the slight itch they feel at the back of their throat is from the ginger extract, while the color of the drink comes from Roselle extract—a natural anti-oxidant that gives the product its cranberry flavor and inhibits the conversion of carbohydrate into fat.
This writer was given five packs of Hydrolean to try out in five days, and while it must honestly be said that the results are inconclusive, the effects of the product cannot be shrugged off. Drinking it just before going on a stationary bicycle for 30 to 45 minutes, the product causes one to sweat more, and possibly makes you want to pedal a bit faster than usual, and represses the urge to snack in between meals. At P700 for 14 sachets, it may be what some people need before the start of their day.
‘No Approved Therapeutic Claims’
Unlike most people who like to hype and bang a gong about their effective or feel-good herbal supplements, only to hide behind the phrase “no approved therapeutic claims,” Ruby prefers to let the products speak for themselves and shies from media hype. She stands by her man, Philip, credited with the successful propagation of Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms in the country. A wonder herb, the mushroom is Aincorporated with a variety of Filipino medicinal herbs grown organically by local farmers in Bacolod, producing a variety of supplements that boost one’s immune system and improve cardiovascular health. A scientific man who doesn’t shy away from testing on himself, Philip gamely tried some of the formulations to see if they could help him manage his occasional gout attack—and reported to his wife that he was able to enjoy eating peanuts (a favorite snack) without fear, eventually giving rise to Herbanext Laboratories.
Because of Philip’s technical background and training, the cultivation of Ganoderma in Negros is currently considered the largest in the Philippines. Herbanext’s collaboration with doctors, scientists and researchers allows its owners to confidently talk about the health benefits of their products. While other booths tout wheatgrass, placenta, glutathione and other wonder cures, Herbanext and its marketing arm called Daily Apple are busy putting into place the next wave of supplements designed to be affordable and all given the stamp of approval from the Department of Health’s Bureau of Food and Drugs, as well as the Halal seal which makes it available for export to Middle Eastern markets.
The popularity of Cruz’s product demonstrates itself when Ruby talks about its benefits at length in front of an assembled audience. After her 20-minute talk, bags containing Hydrolean were offered to audience members who can answer certain questions correctly, and there’s no lack of participants. One even walked straight from the booth he was tending, picked up the microphone, answered correctly, and walked smoothly back with his prize, like a cat that got in the cream. But while she emphasizes the benefits of taking the product, Ruby also underscores the importance of exercise in one’s routine. Aided by the presence of bodybuilder Bong Pico, they are able to get the message across: supplements aren’t a magic bullet, they are just there to give an extra boost in one’s diet and exercise routine. Now if only the rest of the general public would remember that.
Ruby’s interest in uplifting the lives of farmers, as well as the perception of Filipino herbal remedies, comes from her dad who was a farmer, and her mom, a Theosophist who deeply believed in living close to the land and empowering those who till it. Affectionately called Inang, it was she who passed on her values (and passion) to her children, which extends to the creation of a non-profit character-building school for the kids in their community who would otherwise go without quality education. Ruby summarizes her mom’s lessons as “love what you do,” “reflect your values,” and “no mediocrity.”
And don’t think that Ms. Cruz just jumped into the business yesterday. She was witness to the collapse of the farmers’ cooperatives in her area, and was ready to pack up and go to Wharton at age 20. The change in approach with Herbanext is all in the way the business is framed for the farmer-partners. Instead of working with the “alternative income” paradigm, it has been changed to “additional income.” Nevertheless the company invested heavily in training their partners in organic farming techniques, including post-harvest practices. A five-hectare organic farm also serves as Herbanext’s supply for research and development, supplemented by the crop brought in by fair-trade partners.
It takes a woman like Ruby to manage the business, with her smarts,
commitment, know-how, attention to detail, plus applying the lessons she learned
as a wife and mother. While she jokes that it can be difficult to separate the
concerns of family and business at the end of the day, she wouldn’t have it any
other way, especially with a partner like Philip.
With their business operating from Bacolod, having a website (www.dailyapplestore.com) is important for customers or distributors who would like to know more about the products they carry. There is only one Daily Apple outlet in Manila, at the basement of Robinson’s Galleria, but there are seven others in the regions, four of them in Iloilo alone, and one each in Bacolod, Cebu and Davao. Their products are carried by Metro Manila drugstores like Watson’s, South Star, Generika and Manson, but the company is still open regarding distributors. Herbanext products mostly address health care concerns such as diabetes, hepatitis, arthritis, heart ailments and cancer. But instead of being viewed as alternative medicine, the company would prefer that their products be perceived as supplements that work with modern medicine.
“Take charge of your health,” is pretty much the mantra behind Herbanext and Daily Apple, and its message of empowerment radiates at all levels, from people who must make the necessary lifestyle changes to become healthier, to the farmers who want to earn a decent living from their toil. The courage to be different isn’t found in a magical elixir, it’s in the character of the people who demonstrate it everyday, which Ruby and Philip Cruz hope to pass on to their kids as the eventual stewards of the business and the community it supports.