There Is Always A Better Way

Harvesting of Tawa Tawa

If we really take a closer look at our world today, much more has changed in the past 20 years compared to the previous hundred. Now, with cars that drive themselves, pocket devices that contain unlimited information, and a plethora of pills for even the slightest bothersome ailment, it’s clear that we’ve covered more space in less time during this dawning age of technology.

For Philip S. Cruz, founder and President of Herbanext Laboratories in Bago City, Negros Occidental, 20 years was just about enough time to turn a backyard operation into a fully integrated enterprise that is now leading the way towards a healthier future. The impetus of its upward trajectory has been continuous improvement.

Philip Cruz with his dedicated team during the company’s 2020 Applied Research and Innovation Laboratory (ARIL) launching event.

Getting his start as an aquaculturist in a struggling business industry, Cruz turned to his then-hobby of growing medicinal mushrooms as his next venture. One species, Ganoderma lucidum, better known as lingzhi mushrooms in traditional Eastern medicine, was of particular interest to him as it seemed to have eased his personal battles with high cholesterol and gout. Spending the next few years collaborating with natural product researchers and medical practitioners, he was finally able to develop the mushroom into a nutraceutical product, eventually founding Herbanext Laboratories in 2001. The company initially focused on different Ganoderma-based products for various health problems. The start-up operation was indeed humble, but it had very big dreams.

Tawa tawa plant is washed before processing.

In 2006, with the help of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Herbanext began expanding its research and development into other medicinal plants like banaba, ginger, bitter gourd, cat’s whisker, green chireta, and roselle, to name a few. After establishing a few hectares of farmland for the cultivation of raw materials, it quickly became necessary for Philip Cruz to expand his source. He partnered with local farmers and indigenous tribes, providing them sustainable livelihood opportunities while ensuring adequate supply of medicinal plants for Herbanext. Galvanizing an entire community into a winning team, where success is shared and cherished, became the bailiwick of the company’s growth. Quickly, the product line of Herbanext swelled. As it did, Cruz    established Daily Apple Distributions to serve as marketing arm, furthering the vision of a closed-loop supply chain.

Daily Apple Herb Coolers made with natural fruit extracts.

Another five years saw the company’s most significant transformation as Herbanext, again in collaboration with the DOST, invested in state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. This led to the country’s first Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) certified, purpose-built extraction and spray-drying facility. Through technology advancement, Herbanext Laboratories once more innovated its operations to produce instant granulated beverages, tablets in strip foil, capsules in blisters, herbal syrups, shampoos and soaps, creams and ointments, and a wide array of herbal products. With this, Herbanext swayed an industry shift from the use of herbal poweder to the more potent and effective herbal extracts.

In over 20 years, Herbanext achieved what most then said was impossible. What started as a hobby has now blossomed into a 2,500-square-meter plant housed in an 18-hectare farm that grows over 200 medicinal plants and provides sustainable employment to food technologists, pharmacists, chemists, and chemical engineers. The company also furthers its scientific commitment by working side by side with the government on projects like the “Tuklas Lunas” program, dedicated to the study of Philippine medicinal plants for safety, efficacy, and potential application for drug development.

Thirst-quenching herbal drinks by Herbanext marketed under the Daily Apple brand.

The staggering rise of Herbanext Laboratories in a short period of time is an amazing story in itself.  But what leaves one breathless is the realization that the innovations Herbanext pursued did not come from external difficulties that commonly push businesses to change or else. The innovations Herbanext embraced were sought out by Philip S. Cruz, believing that there is always a better way even when life is good. Theirs was not about fending off challenges. Theirs was about seeking opportunities.

Text By: Mayumi Espina
Photo Courtesy: Theon Cruz

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