Care for Davao chocolate or tea from Iloilo?

IN the past, The National Food Fair opened the doors for regional sellers to show off their wares, introducing delicacies from every corner of the Philippines to curious buyers in malls and convention centers. But because of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, things have had to change and this year the fair has gone virtual with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launching the 2021 Hybrid National Food Fair as a digital mall where one can order foodstuff as diverse as chocolate from Davao to tea from Iloilo.

The mall was launched via Facebook Live on Sept. 17. This is the third such initiative of the DTI, which had to adapt to problems posed by the pandemic. The first two digital malls and hybrid fairs were for the National Trade Fair in December last year, and the National Arts and Crafts Fair in March of this year.

“Our food entrepreneurs will now have their own permanent e-commerce platform with today’s official launch of the National Food Fair Digital Mall,” said Marievic Bonoan, Director of the Bureau of Domestic Trade Promotion (BDTP). The online mall, accessible through nff.linker.store, is hosted on UnionBank GlobalLinker (the financial institutions’s digital SME online platform).

At the time of the launch, there were 836 food products and 108 merchants from 16 regions on the website, said Ms. Bonoan. “You can satisfy your cravings for the regional delicacies,” she said.

Undersecretary Abdulgani Macatoman of the Trade Promotions Group remembers that in 2019 (when the last physical iterations of the three aforementioned fairs were held) the National Food Fair attracted 115,000 visitors and earned P193 million in revenue for over 782 exhibitors, composed mostly of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). “You can just imagine the severe impact on our MSMEs nationwide,” he said. “Fortunately, my colleagues in the department were able to quickly adapt by introducing creative solutions to help alleviate the situation for our beloved MSMEs.”

Aside from the creation of the online mall, the DTI has also partnered with e-commerce platforms Lazada and Shopee for online food fairs, with the added advantage that since the food fairs were held, the participating entrepreneurs have been onboarded onto the platforms. To prepare them for digitization, the DTI held workshops and webinars on forming their own online businesses. The department has also partnered with a farm-to-table e-commerce platform, mayani.ph. Mr. Macatoman added that the MSMEs participating in the Hybrid National Food Fair mall “will have access to functionalities and networks to help grow and manage their business.”

“We hope that this will broaden the exposure of our food entrepreneurs and introduce their products beyond our borders, to reach customers abroad,” he said.

The mall will stay open beyond the National Food Fair schedule, which runs until Sept. 26. Activities and webinars about topics such as sustainable packaging and TikTok marketing are still slated for the last days of the food fair, with a schedule and signup sheet posted on the BDTP Facebook page (facebook.com/DTI.BDTP/). — Joseph L. Garcia

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