Fuel for the people


Ricardo Abelardo, Jr.
President and Chief Operating Officer
Artemisplus Express, Inc.

TRUE BLUE corporate guy-turned-entrepreneur Ricardo “Jun” Abelardo, Jr.’s track record for success speaks for itself. He graduated first honor from Ateneo de Naga University High School, and completed a degree in chemical engineering at the University of the Philippines. He received leadership awards upon graduation from high school and college. Mr. Abelardo joined a multinational petroleum company as part of its international leadership program, which is limited to high-potential employees. He was one of the youngest and fastest promoted to the management committee in the company.

Becoming an entrepreneur was initially top of mind for Mr. Abelardo, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. In 2010, his best friend invited him to go into business. He helped pitch for a national-level pharmaceutical distribution contract, which he and his partners won. Apolloplus was born. Around the same time, Mr. Abelardo’s partners had an investment in Urban Chef, a small canteen concessionaire business. After some thought, they all decided to sell Apolloplus and take over Urban Chef completely. It was then that Artemisplus Express, Inc. was established.

Upon acquisition, Urban Chef was only doing less than 30 million sales a month with roughly 20 accounts, but Mr. Abelardo saw the opportunity to professionalize the canteen business in the Philippines. From a mom-and-pop operation, the company transformed the canteen business into a world-class, professionalized food concessionaire business with P1.5 billion in revenue and over 100 outlets over a span of 10 years.

Today, Artemisplus Express, Inc. operates 100 concessionaires for different local and multinational companies as well as 14 dietary concessionaires for top Philippine hospitals. The company is also one of the biggest corporate event caterers in the country, having served as many as 15,000 people in a single event. It has established a brand reputation for quality, cleanliness, and food safety.

“You can say I’m working on a different kind of fuel now with Artemisplus Express, Inc. I no longer help fuel vehicles, I’m now fueling our country’s workforce,” Mr. Abelardo said.

Mr. Abelardo believes that an entrepreneur must be able to anticipate change and act accordingly. This mindset proved invaluable during the onset of the pandemic. While most businesses succumbed to the disruption, Artemisplus Express quickly pivoted the business and launched Kitchen City Frozen Meals with its own digital platform and delivery fleet.

As early as March 2020 when the government enforced lockdowns all over the country, the company was able to immediately shift to deliveries of frozen cooked food, packaging well-loved commissary-made products into safe, delicious, and convenient reheatable dishes.

“We were closely monitoring the events in Wuhan and saw the effects of the quarantine on people and businesses,” Mr. Abelardo said.

Knowing that customers were already facing so many uncertainties, Mr. Abelardo wanted to offer peace of mind through delicious meals, safely and hygienically prepared according to the highest food safety standards. The company ensures safety — starting with raw materials, where only meats certified by the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) are used; processing and cooking where safety officers who are trained in food safety are on-site; all the way to its own delivery fleet.

With extensive menu offerings that have been enjoyed in canteens in Metro Manila and Calabarzon, Artemisplus Express’ 200 chefs from all over the Philippines now prepare frozen versions of 60 signature dishes at budget-friendly prices for families.

Mr. Abelardo fiercely stands by the company’s product proposition of food made safe, made delicious. “Safety is our license to operate. Happiness is our obligation to our customers,” he said.

Mr. Abelardo is also proud of the feedback he has received from customers expressing their appreciation for creating value at such a challenging time. He is prouder still of the company’s surprising impact on their employees. “They’ve come to consider it their life’s work — to serve the people at such a trying time. When asked if they want to return home to their families, they’d say ‘the people need us, sir, we’d rather stay,’” he added.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Mr. Abelardo is looking at geographically expanding the food concessionaire business, continuing to serve frozen meals, and eventually pivoting to food express, and developing branded food kiosks.

In 2021 Macay Holdings Co., with its chairman Alfredo Yao and its president Tony Panajon, bought Artemisplus Express, Inc. with the condition that Mr. Abelardo stay on as the president to continue to build and integrate the business.

From corporate guy to entrepreneur extraordinaire, Mr. Abelardo encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to know everything they can about the business they’re getting into before taking the plunge, “So much is riding on your success so it helps to be prepared as much as you can,” he said.

The media sponsors of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2022 are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Gold Sponsors are SteelAsia Manufacturing Corp., Uratex, and Navegar. Silver Sponsors are Intellicare, OneWorld Alliance Logistics Corp., and Regan Industrial Sales, Inc. Banquet Co-presenter is PMFTC, Inc. Banquet Sponsors are Uratex, MerryMart Consumer Corp., Robert Blancaflor Group, Inc., International Container Terminal Services, Inc., Joy~Nostalg, Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc., and Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2022 will be announced on Nov. 21 in an awards banquet at the Grand Hyatt Manila. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2023. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young (EY).

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