From Nationwide Cookfests in the 80s to Creating New Gen Bakers—Maya’s Legacy Continues

Maya is a staple brand among Filipinos, but even to this day, it has remained relevant in the hearts and palates of many. How? CEO Ernesto Fajardo tells all.

Maya products are an integral part of Filipino food culture. And this year, the Maya brand celebrates its 60th anniversary. But how did this beloved food label come to be? How was it able to survive the pandemic? And, most importantly, what does it take to make a business profitable and stable for decades, just like Maya?

For all these and more, company CEO Ernesto Fajardo shares Maya’s early beginnings, its evolution, and his pragmatic vision on how to keep the brand strong in a challenging economy.

A Deliciously Rich History

Liberty Commodities Corporation (LCC) is the marketing firm of Liberty Group Companies (LGC), which has stakes in different enterprises—including flour milling (Liberty Flour Mills or LFM for short), animal feed production, chemicals, food service, and real estate. LCC was organized in June of 1965 as Wheat Products, Inc. before changing its legal entity name during its second year of operations.

With that, LCC undertook the distribution of LFM’s wheat-based products consisting of bakery flour, cake flour, specialty mixes, snacks, and pollard—under the Maya trademark. The initial product line was so successful among housewives that LFM later expanded it to include other cake mix variants, brownies, crinkles, cupcake mixes, pancakes, and even champorado.

Next came the Maya Bakeshop, which was built as the company’s R&D center and consumer education department. It has since been renamed the Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center and has evolved into a full-fledged cooking and baking school. Accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Maya Kitchen is a vital component in the company’s sales and promotions campaigns.

Memorable Maya Moments—Over the years, Maya has hosted nationwide cookfests, mounted live cooking shows taught by different top chefs, and published numerous cookbooks in an effort to improve life through good food.
(In Photos: Grand dame of Filipino cooking Nora Daza, daughter Nina Daza and granddaughter Isabelle Daza with Mr. and Mrs. Fajardo and their son Eric.)
Top Chefs—Many of the elite chefs in the Philippine culinary world have conducted cooking demonstrations in the Maya Kitchen. (Top left, first row: Myrna Dizon, Fernando Aracama, and Cocoy Ventura; Middle Row: Robbie Goco, Jessie Syncioco, and Patrice Freuslon, Bottom Row: Sonny Mariano, Anton Amoncio, and Glenda Barretto)

“Over the past six decades, the Maya Kitchen has equipped its students with culinary skills, as well as technical know-how, which helped them launch their own businesses,” Mr. Fajardo notes proudly.

It counts among its graduates successful food entrepreneurs like the Go sisters of Goldilocks, Inocencia Zamora of Hizon’s, Nene Jacinto of D’Swan, and many more. He fondly recounts, “From 1974 to 1990, we conducted The Great Maya Cookfest led by culinary legend Nora Daza.”

To date, it is the most prestigious and biggest culinary event (in coverage) ever held in the country. Aside from the many valuable prizes at stake, winners were sent to participate in a Culinary Exchange Program abroad.

Pandemic Pivot

The year 2020, which brought many industries to their knees, proved to be LCC’s banner year. “LCC is very fortunate in that being in the food industry,” the CEO explains. “It was considered essential and was allowed to operate during the pandemic.”

“Most of our workers live near the factory, so they did not have to rely on public transportation—which was practically non-existent at the height of the COVID surges. Some used bikes or motorcycles to go to work. Car service was made available to employees critical to the daily operations, while others worked from home,” he adds.

Moreover, they kept communication lines open through online meetings and calls. “Like all others, we had numerous Zoom meetings to keep the business afloat, while keeping ourselves safe.”

And like most essential businesses, the show must go on with daily operations to keep up with demand. “Production was continuous as we observed strict social distancing in the factory,” Fajardo further narrates. “Demand for flour grew substantially. Home bakers and home cooks found a way to earn money while stuck at home. We had to purchase production equipment and necessary ingredients to meet the increase in orders.

The result? Rising sales through online channels. “Our sales accelerated as consumers placed online orders non-stop through Lazada, Shopee, ZAP, and other selling platforms,” he says proudly.

Experienced and Resolute—To lead a company, one must know the intricacies of the business, be able to keep up to date with trends, know how to develop employees as well as delegate functions, and be willing to try new things in a prudent and decisive manner according to Liberty Commodities Corporation CEO Ernesto Fajardo.

Continuing the Legacy

LCC stands by the quality of the Maya brand. While others have resorted to cutting costs by using inferior ingredients, the company refuses to compromise its strict quality control procedures.

Likewise, the desire to grow, improve, and innovate is there. “Innovation is part of our DNA,” Mr. Fajardo explains. “In the mid-90s we launched the Toaster Mixes to address the low ownership of ovens in households. In 2004, we introduced the Decadence line for the discriminating upscale market. And in the past decade, we formulated healthy pancake options [whole wheat and oatmeal] under the Think Heart sub-brand to cater to the health-conscious segment.”

“Most recently, we came up with the no-bake mug cake, which is a tasty dessert that can be prepared in two minutes. The nurses loved this because it was the ideal fast snack in between their duties,” enthused Fajardo.

Bestsellers All—LCC is proud to be a market leader in its major product lines.

To reach its customers, LCC has set up various social platforms to promote its products. The Maya Kitchen website is regularly updated to keep people informed on class schedules, product promotions, special events, and culinary trends. In fact, the brand also has an active presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Meanwhile, plans for the future include further expanding Maya’s product mixes, as well as distribution coverage.

Maya For All Seasons—Maya transcends all generations as people of all ages continue to support this enduring brand.

“We have managed to not only survive but even grow during several economic crises that have befallen the country,” Mr. Fajardo says wistfully. “LCC is a respected member of the local business community and counts among the country’s large taxpayers. We are grateful to God for His continuous guidance; to our employees for their loyalty and dedication; to our stockholders for their unwavering support, and to our clients for believing in our products.”

When asked whether LCC is ready for any storms that may come their way, the resilient CEO has only one thing to say: “New challenges will emerge but our company is ready for any eventuality—having laid the groundwork for a strong but flexible business environment.”


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