ONLY THE BEST
Filipino artisanal ice cream brand Carmen’s Best just wants to be the best ice cream brand in the land
Filipino artisanal ice cream brand Carmen’s Best aims to be the best in the land
‘Best’ is a word that crops up most often in our conversation with Paco Magsaysay, founder of Filipino artisanal ice cream brand, Carmen’s Best. Fitting, as it is part of his brand name after all (Carmen is the name of his youngest daughter). But it also sums up his brand ethos. Seven years ago, Magsaysay started his company from scratch, looking to make “the best ice cream” using the “best ingredients”. Today, Carmen’s Best is making its first foray overseas, with 12 of its signature flavours available in Singapore at Carry On Cafe in Tanjong Katong and via GrabFood.
“It’s like a cult following,” Magsaysay says. “I know if somebody has tried our ice cream based on how they talk to me. If they get excited when I give out my card, I know they’ve tried our ice cream.” It may sound like a boast, but then again, this is a brand that has grown exponentially since it started in 2011. From just four flavours—salted caramel, butter pecan, Brazilian coffee and malted milk—Carmen’s Best now offers 25 flavours across over 250 resellers and outlets in the Philippines. It is also available on Philippine Airlines and Qantas business class flights out of Manila.
As with most things, the brand taking flight had something to do with serendipity. “We were very lucky that a year after we started, Häagen-Dazs pulled out of the market. We also had a new President, Benigno Aquino III; our economy was on the uptrend; people were travelling more and trying different things. Our ice cream started to get a following.” Magsaysay adds that social media played a big part. “That was when Facebook was ramping up in the Philippines, and we were boosting our pictures and information. We really grew with social media.”
Admittedly, says Magsaysay, in the Philippines and even now in Singapore, the price point of his ice cream is “around 20 to 30 per cent higher” than premium ice cream brands such as Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s (in Singapore, a 3.5oz cup goes for $7), but he is confident that people will keep coming back because of the quality. “We understand that our ice cream is not for everybody. We don’t want to be the biggest ice cream company in the Philippines. We just want to be the best.”
QUALITY SPEAKS A THOUSAND WORDS
Just what is the greatest attraction of his ice cream? In a word, milk. Carmen’s Best is made with fresh milk produced on Magsaysay’s own family farm in Bay, Laguna. The family’s trade was actually in cable television, but in 2007, Magsaysay’s father decided to try his hand at dairy farming. A year into its operation, Magsaysay came onboard. “They were throwing away milk because they couldn’t sell it fast enough,” he says.
“The first account I got was Amanpulo resort in Palawan, Philippines. I thought, if the milk was so good and we can make something with it, it would be excellent. That’s
MAGSAYSAY BELIEVES IN BEING UNAFRAID OF THE UNKNOWN. “FOR ALL YOU KNOW, IT WILL BE WHAT DEFINES YOU. THIS ICE CREAM HAS DEFINED ME. WE STARTED FROM ZERO IN FEBRUARY 2011. AND NOW WE’RE LOOKING TO EXPORT TO SINGAPORE. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE UNKNOWN. FOR ALL YOU KNOW, THAT’S WHERE YOUR PATH IS.”
how we incorporated Carmen’s Best Dairy Products—not Ice Cream. We didn’t know we were going to make ice cream then. We just knew we were going to do something with the milk.” Today, the milk is processed in their own pasteurisation facility to make their ice cream, allowing them to control every step of the process.
Apart from starting with high quality fresh milk, Magsaysay says they do not pump as much air into their ice cream as competitors. As a result, their product is a little heavier in weight than others, but in exchange, it retains a full, dense, creamy, luscious texture. The brand also does not believe in having a base mix, meaning each flavour has its own alchemy of ingredients that include fine produce from around the world, such as chocolate from Switzerland and vanilla bean from Madagascar. “We do everything from the ground up. It costs a lot to make each flavour. It’s like custom-made ice cream actually. Each one has a different foundation.”
If creating their ice cream flavours are more of an art, their farming techniques come down to a science. Carmen’s Best is currently negotiating with a company who will help them use special, higher quality semen to impregnate milking cows that have been singled out as their top milk producers.
“Essentially, this is using artificial insemination to give them a better gene pool as they get pregnant. There is also what is called ‘sexed semen’, which means there is a higher than 50-50 per cent chance that the offspring will be female. It’s good to know if they can become milking cows because it’s expensive to feed the cows as they tend to eat up to 10 per cent of their body weight!” Magsaysay adds that they give the cows “the best feed” they can give them, using a cut-and-carry type of farming where they lease property and farmers grow grass for them to feed their cows.
We got the opportunity to try some of the flavours that Magsaysay is launching in Singapore, and we must say that the ice creams were as luscious and creamy as he described. Pistachio, one of their most popular flavours, came littered with Sicilian pistachios; while malted milk had a rich, Horlicks flavour complemented by studs of Maltesers; and Brazilian coffee was nutty, smoky and aromatic, like a fresh pour of speciality coffee.
Two of the latter flavours were among the original four flavours launched in 2011. Magsaysay says malted milk came about because in the Philippines, it was common for kids to eat Horlick tablet sweets. “As children, we would play games pretending that we were dying and could suddenly ‘become strong’ with just a Horlicks tablet. And I love Maltesers, so we added that in. As for Brazilian coffee, 20 to 30 years ago, Häagen-Dazs’ coffee ice cream was my favourite Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I told myself I had to make a coffee ice cream that could compare to that.”
Magsaysay owes the inspiration for the original four flavours to two sources, A Perfect
Scoop by David Leibowitz for the salted caramel and malted milk, and a Ben & Jerry’s recipe book for Brazilian coffee and butter pecan. “I actually sent a message to David Leibowitz saying that his recipes are what we use for our ice cream. He was nonchalant but I thanked him for his help in my business.” Magsaysay says they stuck close to the recipes, but in the end, it is not the recipes, but the method they use that matters most. “That’s why I’m open to telling you the recipes we use.”
Depending on market demand, Carmen’s Best may soon launch flavours just for Singapore. But Magsaysay currently has his sights set on the halal market, having attained the certification about a year ago. Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Middle East are all possible next destinations.
“In the last seven years, I have been doing a lot of talks about entrepreneurship and starting businesses from scratch. I always tell them not to be afraid of the unknown,” Magsaysay reflects. “For all you know, it will be what defines you. This ice cream has defined me. We started from zero in February 2011. And now we’re looking to export to Singapore. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. For all you know, that’s where your path is.” In short, the best is yet to be.