Friday, March 20, 2015

The Talisay Fishermen's Association, or more popularly known as TAFIAS, was your average small countryside fishermen's group whose working members, the fishermen themselves, earned just enough and sometimes even less than they should from fishing. An average Filipino fisherman has a wife and at least three kids with income that varies depending on a number of uncontrollable factors such as the season and weather.

Most of the TAFIAS fishermen's children are well taken care of at school and at a day care by ANDAKidz, a local non-profit organization. That leaves the women of the family with their day jobs: producing and packaging food products created with locally made raw materials such as Taro Ice Cream, Taro Polvoron and Tilapia Chips, which I thought were really good considering. Much like other "locally made food products" here in Bohol, their products were poorly made with the typical unattractive bag of plastic and stamped-on labels and no quality control whatsoever.

tafias tilapia chips
photo © Robin

Robin Gurney, founder of ANDAKidz, invited Velvet Design's Senoir Creative Designer, Janno Siimar, who came all the way from Estonia, to Talisay, Anda to help with this ambitious three-month project. The pair wrestled with logistics, different mindsets and excruciating Philippine legalities to make the whole thing work.

"In Estonia, when you say we "have no money", it usually means you can scrape up a few thousands within the next week. Here, when they said they "had no money" they literally meant zero. Nothing. It was quite a shock." -Janno Siimar

tafias tilapia chips
photo © TAFIAS website


One of the first things they tried was to pimp up the old TAFIAS logo. It's unrecognizable and unmemorable. It looks much like all the other traditional institutions in the province and for an organization looking to stand out, the old logo just didn't do the job. TAFIAS' mascot, the Tipalia fish, was the type of fish farmed and caught by the fishermen in the area. Upon further research, they discovered that the Tilapia, or more internationally known as "St. Peter's Fish" was so much more than a local fish. It is mentioned in the Bible as being one of the few types of fishes caught in the Sea of Galilee in biblical times, one of which was caught by St. Peter himself "with a coin in its mouth" and is a completely versatile fish that can live in both fresh and saltwater.

These traits reminded Janno of the people of Talisay; of their drive to improve themselves and to adapt to the situation presented to them. The Tialpia's significance to the organization was made clear then.

tafias tilapia chips
Janno talks about designing the packaging

Given the time the organizations were to work on the project, they decided to focus and study only one of TAFIAS' many products: the Tilapia Chips.

Previously, the chips' selling price was so close to it's production price that there was virtually no profit left to generate significant revenue; so naturally, Robin and Janno decided to sell the product at a much higher price after the new recipe and packaging was implemented.

Their story is much like a startup where many of their decisions revolved around gut feelings and hunches. A defining moment for them that validated all their work and decisions was from the arrival of a Filipino volunteer group a day after the first batch of chips were packed and ready to sell. The group was presented with both the old and the new product and packaging. Surprisingly, and despite the majority of them moaning about the more expensive price, seventy or so of the new packs and only fifteen of the cheaper old packs were sold. That study spoke volumes about their product.

tafias tilapia chips


The names "Fishies" or "Tafies" paired with a cartoon for the product mascot automatically popped into Robin's mind during initial planning but that wouldn't make them any different than the other food producers in the market so the idea was scrapped. Janno, being as practical as he could be, proposed to the group to call the chips as they were. Chips.

His reason was that the product is itself was already so unique and peculiar, them not being the typical potato chip, that calling them anything just as unique or peculiar will only confuse the customer, a thought that I agreed with wholeheartedly. Them being "world famous", on the other hand, was in one way or another true as many international supporters of both organizations and even a few locals and many OFWs had bought their fair share of the chips and brought their purchases with them to their individual countries. So indeed, the product is traveling but not yet as renowned as brands like Coca-Cola or KitKat.

Their slogan "Give a man a fish..." is personally one of my favorites. Everyone has heard the saying:

"Give a man a fish and you can feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime."

Take that thought and mix it with TAFIA's story, then you have their current slogan which I really liked. The slogan is both an emotional reference, as proven above, and a call to action. When you buy a pack of Tilapia Chips and give them to someone as a gift or souvenir, guess what you're doing? Giving a man a fish!

tafias tilapia chips
Robin talks about the effect of the project to the locals


Due to the improved quality standard developed for the product, the fishermen's wives who produce and pack the products also found a new sense of purpose. "If the product isn't good enough, it does not go into the bag.", Robin says to them and true enough, these women have practiced this discipline religiously throughout the production process. They found a renewed sense of pride whilst making this product. They consider it's production their responsibility and has now become the world to them. This new principle has improved their mindset on things, has taught them about capital and revenue, even a little bit of marketing; engraving into this small family of fishermen the seed of entrepreneurship which is a pretty awesome thing to do, in my opinion.

tafias tilapia chips


The best thing about this product, I have to say that everything from the raw materials to the packaging prints is made in Bohol. Money used to produce these premium chips circulate first in Anda then to Gindulman then to Tagbilaran. They could easily have had the packaging printed in Manila or China for a cheaper price but they chose to have it all in Bohol, to support the local industries which I thought was really cool. The organization dreams to use Taro, their specialty root crop, to use and process it as the chip's flour in the near future as the Taro plantation they have today just can't keep up with demand.

At the moment, they only have so much to go by when food production is concerned. They have a small but clean make-shift production area that they set up pretty well but they won't be able to scale if sales don't improve. The printing press where they get the packaging printed cuts the molds they provide but it is the ladies themselves that fold and glue them together. They produce around two hundred bags a day.

tafias tilapia chips

TAFIAS currently only sells the chips in their Talisay branch but are open to visitors and wholesalers. You can stop by and bring your own favorite ingredient, let's say a bottle of Gatorade, and make your own bag of Tilapia chips with your selected flavor at the plant. The TAFIAS ladies are very warm, welcoming and proud of their work and the chips are a unique product for the market so give yourself a fish and eat fish snacks and help them feed themselves and their families for a lifetime!


  1. Very informative and inspiring

    1. Thanks, Dillan! I hope this blogpost will help get the word out that TAFIAS Chips are in the market :)

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