WHAT started as a small online business during the start of the pandemic has now become a chain of specialty grocery stores in Mindanao.

That is the story of The Mindanao Basket (TMB) in just two years.

“It’s very overwhelming, especially the support of our customers. Who would’ve thought that it would grow as big as this? We are beyond grateful,” Arielle Louisse Lu, owner and founder of TMB shared.

TMB is home to premium steaks, seafood, wines, dry goods, cheeses, deli, chocolates, gourmet, and gift items. At present, it has five physical stores in Mindanao (Matina Davao, NCCC Mall VP Davao, SM CDO Uptown, Cotabato City, and General Santos City) and 11 distributors nationwide (Cotabato City; Gensan; Koronadal City; Tagum City; Mati City; Cagayan de Oro; Iligan City; Malita; Palawan; Zamboanga; and Butuan).

Humble beginnings

It was in 2020 when Lu thought of starting a new business after she closed down her milk tea house and beauty shop. She started selling Davao’s famous sweet Pomelos, King Mandarins, and Mangosteen online, hence the name “The Mindanao Basket” as Mindanao is known as the country’s fruit basket.

Months later, she tried selling premium steaks and meats - Saikoro Wagyu Cubes and USDA K BBQ Strips.

“Surprisingly, the demand is really there. So, I keep on selling these items and added few items, products eventually. Later on I added ‘pasabuys’ from Manila and seafoods like Salmon and scallops,” she said.

“My supplies are stored in my own place in Ma-a with one old freezer. Customers even go to my place so I sometimes meet them with just my pajamas on,” Lu added.

But the demand keeps on growing as more people are staying at home during that period caused by Covid-19 restrictions. This pushed the founder to set up a physical store after a year of operating purely online.

Its first branch opened at Casa Loda Compound, Juna Subd., Matina, Davao City in October 2021. The first store started with just one door and limited space but was expanded in July 2022 to cater to more products and make the shopping experience of its customers better.

“I was just selling steaks, seafood, and some dry goods but customers are always looking for other products. I don’t want to fail my customers so whatever they request I see to it that I can deliver in order for them to keep coming back,” she said.

What’s inside

TMB is now the go-to specialty grocery store in Mindanao. Most customers visit the store for their premium meat needs.

“I want to position The Mindanao Basket just in the middle. I don’t want it to be so high that people will get intimidated. I want that even the lower-middle class can afford premium meats, that’s why we have as low as P699 steaks sold here,” Lu said.

As of today, TMB has around 40 different kinds of premium meats and steaks from Japan, USA, Brazil, Australia, and Argentina.

Aside from meats, TMB also offers a wide selection of wines, premium dry goods, cheeses, deli, chocolate, gourmet, and healthy options, among others

“I am confident in the selections that we have today. With a bigger store, I think we were able to expand our inventory,” she said.

She also shared that she made the stores have a homey vibe to look more welcoming.

“The store is very welcoming, the interior is just homey, I don’t want it to appear like it’s just for the elites. I want to cater, as much as possible, more people because I believe everyone deserves to eat premium food, goods,” Lu added.

Currently, TMB is also preparing hampers and gift items for the holiday season.

Lu also observed that the Davao market has upscaled for premium meat and other items. Gone are the days when steaks are just meant for restaurants on special occasions as more people can cook them at home for a simple weekend dinner on an ordinary day.

Moving forward

Lu mentioned that she is now strengthening TMB’s distribution by hiring sales representatives in key strategic areas nationwide to penetrate hotels, restaurants, and resorts.

“Another plan is also to import directly to maximize all the business opportunities,” she said.

In 2023, TMB is gearing towards franchising to open more branches in the Philippines. They are now eyeing to establish physical stores in Cebu, Butuan, Dumaguete, General Santos, and Tagum.

“As we start our 2nd year as a business and as we celebrate our first anniversary with our main physical store, we strive to serve our valued customers better, bring in more new products that will satisfy every craving and to open more branches so that we can grow more, make more people happy by eating good food and for us to provide more jobs to the Filipino people,” Lu shared.

The Mindanao Basket Main Branch is located at Unit 6 & 7 Casaloda Commercial Building, Juna Subdivision, Matina, Davao City. For more details check their social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram or call 0945-8166-788. ASP