Sandra Soriano balances country and city living
After seeing the world, Sandra Soriano now rules her own roost
A two-hour drive from Makati is the Soriano family’s dairy farm, Hacienda Macalauan. Here, the air is sweeter and fresher; the Laguna breeze carries the mooing of cattle and is tinged with the scent of milk. Even the sky is of a richer blue, still untainted by the smog of the city. It’s a welcome escape, where the overgrowth of trees and shrubbery replace the urban jungle.
At the doorway to the hacienda’s Casa Nina, we are welcomed by Sandra Soriano, the head of marketing for the dairy products produced by Hacienda Macalauan Inc. She leads us on a tour of their home up until the vast garden outside, which her mother, family matriarch, Menchu-Menchaca Soriano tends to daily.
It’s been a little over a year since Sandra returned from London with a master’s degree in food policy from the City University in tow. Since settling back home, she finds herself ready to start making waves, starting with the family business. Sandra shuttles back and forth between working at the company’s Makati office and meeting and touring clients and partners at the Laguna dairy farm. It’s a full-time job that gets her the best of both worlds.
The workers say they see a woman in white walking around the house and the grounds at night; Menchu quips that the staff probably just spotted her daughter walking to the kitchen for a midnight snack. Sandra emerges from her dressing room in an ensemble reminiscent of the rumored specter. She walks barefoot across the plush grass, and in the golden haze of dusk, she almost glows in her Carl Jan Cruz dress.
An old map from the Spanish era hangs in the foyer of her bedroom. The fine etchings on aging linen plots the whole area of Laguna as it was known then. The Sorianos have owned their property for generations, but the dairy farm began in 1995, continually expanding in reach and innovation.
Soon after Sandra shows us around her home, we all take the golf cart to see the cows being milked. The cattle live in an enclosure five minutes away from the hacienda. They undergo the milking process twice daily, first at around eight o’clock in the morning and later at four in the afternoon.
“We want the cows as comfortable as possible,” Sandra explains as she walks us through the plant. There’s a sickbay and a team of veterinarians at the ready should one of their mares be feeling under the weather. The cows herd off in groups, almost like cliques eating together and chatting in their own language. “It’s about keeping them cool, keeping them fed. You want them not on their feet, not looking for food, not looking for water, [because] when they’re relaxed and resting is when they’re making milk.”
Three years ago, the dairy farm began implementing the Israeli system for milking. “Think of it like a Fitbit but for cows,” Sandra describes it. The cows have pedometers that measure their health and weight, the steps they take, and the quality of the milk they produce. It’s kind of surprising to see this technology on Philippine soil, and it’s comforting to know that the animals are treated with utmost care.
It’s an idyllic life, it seems, on this side where the grass literally grows greener. But while it’s the perfect place for a getaway, to the Sorianos, it’s the center of their livelihood as much as it is their home.
When we meet Sandra again, it’s in a coffee shop in the middle of Makati. Later that weekend, she will be flying out to see the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair. She keeps herself busy coordinating meetings and working on the branding of their products. The milk cartons, the packets of cheese, and the tubs of yogurt in vibrant blocks of color are easily recognizable in groceries.
“We want to streamline everything,” she says of her upcoming project to unite both branding and packaging of the dairy goods. She is definitely no stranger to the business of food, choosing to work not in the more public restaurant industry, but rather behind the scenes in farm-totable production.
“When you say ‘food industry,’ it covers everything from agriculture to government,” she says. “When I got my degree, a good portion of my classmates worked with the government, so there are government advocacy policies and then also nutrition and public health [involved in what we do], which people don’t think about. People always think, ‘Oh you're in the food industry, like restaurants?’ but it goes way beyond that.”
“People always think ‘Oh, you're in the food industry, like restaurants?’ but it goes way beyond that.”
She remains passionate about improving local food policies to create something sustainable and more attuned to public health. Southeast Asia is rich in food production, particularly in agriculture, and yet it’s difficult, not to mention pricy, for the masses to gain access to fresh produce and healthier options for food.
“All of these things grow naturally here,” Sandra says. “The ironic part is that it’s actually so hard to buy [fresh produce]. There’s also this perception that imported is better, even if it’s more expensive. We’d love to change that, though I think people are [already] changing.”
The Manila scene is divergent from that of London, a city Sandra had called home for eight years. “I’m used to walking everywhere,” she says, instantly debunking the myth that it always rains in London. “That’s what I miss, walking to the parks every morning. It would never rain the same there as it does here. When it rains [in London] it’s like it’s misting.
“It feels a little bit different,” Sandra continues. After 10 years of absence, she’s ready to use her knowledge and passion to make changes back in her home country. “Manila, I guess, is growing a lot. But it’s exciting. The energy is changing.”
Sandra Soriano wears Carl Jan Cruz, carljancruz.com Makeup and hair Diana May Q. Nalog Styling Melvin Mojica