Ask any Filipino if they have eaten sardines and hear a resounding ‘yes.’
Filipino households are no strangers to sardine, which is one of the leading sources of protein among the masses. True enough, in every supermarket, canned and bottled sardines are readily available for consumption. Especially for the poor, a can of sardines may be a lifesaver because it is affordable and accessible.
But there’s one Filipino company that stretches the concept of accessibility through new innovations that strive to improve people’s lives. Based in Zamboanga City, Mega Global Fishing and Canning had brought forward several innovations such as the easy-to-open pouch sardines and the easy- to-open can.
Mega Global is one of the 11 sardine canning factories in Zamboanga City, which is considered as the sardine capital of the Philippines. About one million metric-tons of fish are being caught in the Sulu Celebes Sea, which surrounds the Zamboanga peninsula.
The company, founded by William Tiu-Lim, started its operations in 1995 and then opened its first canning plant in 1998. Starting from one fishing vessel, the company had expanded to 55 fishing vessels today. Now, it has one canning factory that produces about 300,000 cans per day in Talisayan and another office in Cawit that handles logistics, dry-docking, ship-building, engineering, and allied businesses. It also operates the Tawi-Tawi-based Bongao Hatchery, which is a joint enterprise of the national and provincial government.
The company prides itself to provide local employment, as Mega Global employs 2,000 Zamboangeños in its plants. It exports to 41 countries, including Europe, United Arab Emirates, US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan, among other countries.
Sardines in a pouch
Despite its success, Mega Global wanted to further innovate by exploring new types of packaging that is not the usual canned or bottled container. They sought the technological expertise of the Packaging Technology Division of the Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI), an agency under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
By working with the center, they have created an easy to open stand-up pouch or retort pouch to store sardines. When they launched the product in the market in 2004, it was regarded as the first of its kind in the world.
The retort pouch packaging is made from flexible foil and plastic laminate. This type of packaging is an alternative to traditional canning methods. The type of material used is able to withstand retort processing, which involves heat and pressure to cook food and extend its shelf life.
The Mega Sardines in tomato sauce product was first used for the retort pouch, followed by the Mega Sardines paksiw style. According to Millalie Tomboc, Quality Control Manager of Mega Sardines, Mega Global as well as DOST ensured that the sardines in the pouches won't crumble despite its stand-up position. This, as well as preserving the flavor of the sardines, was the challenge with the paksiw style product of Mega Sardines. Nevertheless, both challenges were overcome by using the right ingredients and the use of the retort packaging technology.
The portability of the sardines in pouch led it to be chosen by the United Nations as one of the relief goods that is distributed worldwide. Following the success of the retort pouch for sardines, PTD continued to develop products for the purpose of relief and survival food during natural disasters.
Providing affordable nutrition to the masses
Sardines may be considered as a poor man’s meal but because of the presence of omega-3 oils, it has attracted the middle and upper class markets. Every sardine is processed within 12 hours, allowing it to retain its omega-3 oils. Omega-3 oil, which is also found in other fatty fishes, is known to reduce the risk of heart problems and also lowers blood cholesterol levels.
Mega Sardines also does not use preservatives to retain its flavor and freshness. Moreover, consumers can benefit from calcium found in tender fish bones that can be eaten along with the fish meat.
Lastly, histamine build up is controlled by the process in packaging the sardines, resulting to almost zero percent risk of having allergies.
Presently, the city is still struggling with the low sardine production, even with the three-month off fishing season in 2011. Mega Global admitted that the off fishing season helped increase the supply of sardines but the company is considering having a Manila plant to cover them during lean seasons in Zamboanga. A year after the start of the off fishing season, there was a 6.32% increase in sardine production, benefiting fishers and fishing companies in Zamboanga.
With the low supply of sardines, Mega Global is looking at other ways to innovate and create opportunities out of their existing materials. Tiu-Lim thought of converting sardine by-products, particularly fish scales, to collagen. He also thought of extracting omega-3 from fishmeal and convert it for human consumption. With these ideas, Tiu-Lim is hoping that the government will lend its S&T expertise and support to the company, also to benefit its consumers.