Healthy Options CEO Romy Sia: Education and Empowerment are Key to Wellness
When one thinks of wholesome, organic grocers in the Philipines, Healthy Options immediately springs to mind. Since 1995, the group’s CEO Romy Sia (one our Asia's Most Influential Tastemaker's) has provided foodies and health enthusiasts with natural food products - something that the local market sorely lacked at the time, and a resource Sia himself desperately sought out for his family.
“In late 1994, our son Sean (then aged two) developed a terrible food allergy and the doctor advised us to only feed him food without any artificial colouring, flavouring, or other chemical additives”, Sia recalls. “It was the frustrating search for artificial-free ingredients and ‘clean’ food that gave birth to Healthy Options.”
Making money is not a purpose, it’s a result.— Romy Sia
Fast forward over 25 years later, and Healthy Options now has 33 stores throughout the country with over 350 regular employees. From all-natural and organic pantry staples to wholesome baked treats, potent supplements to beauty products, Sia and his team continue to chase their vision of a healthier world. For the countless individuals who have grown more health-conscious throughout the pandemic (myself included), Healthy Options' expansive catalogue and reliable service have even absolutely essential, especially since they’ve pivoted online.
In this interview, Sia reflects on his brand’s growth and discloses his predictions about the Philippine food scene, highlighting the importance of produce and meat that are both nutritious and ethically grown or raised. On top of that, he also owns Wine Story, Bow & Wow and GNC too. Learn more about this Tastemaker's and his success story here:
How did Healthy Options grow to be the successful brand it is today?
Healthy Options’ growth came slowly and steadily. We knew from the start that we were in this for the long haul and it would take total commitment to change the way people think about health, what they eat, and how they take care of themselves. Educating and empowering people to take control of their health has always been my motivation and inspiration for setting up Healthy Options.
What motivates you to continue doing what you do?
Seeing the joy in people’s faces when they come up to me in the store to thank me for bringing healthy options to their lives. At this time of the pandemic, being able to play a part in the war against COVID-19 is what drives and keeps us going. The medical frontlines help people to stay alive in the hospitals - Healthy Options frontlines help people to stay away from the hospitals.
What do you feel is your contribution to the Philippine dining scene?
Healthy Options made being a health advocate cool and appealing. We did it by educating and empowering people about health and wellness, and less about selling products. We created awareness about eating natural and organic food and highlighted the health benefits of eating less processed food.
What have you been up to lately? Can you tell us about your recent work and projects?
We are working with like-minded farmers to make local, organic produce more widely available. We are also educating them about animal welfare when raising chickens and pigs. We still have a lot of work to do in this aspect, since some still view animal welfare as secondary to economics (like cost, yield, and time to market).
Also, even if the farmers give their livestock TLC, we don’t have enough triple-A slaughterhouses (with high animal welfare standards) like those found in the US, UK, and Europe. This is an area we are looking to invest in.
How has the pandemic affected your business and how have you evolved?
The pandemic reinforced the message we have been communicating since Healthy Options was founded. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Now more than ever, people realize how important health is.
When the quarantine started, we prioritised setting up our online shop to help get our products to our customers without endangering their safety. At the same time, we quickly put in place strict safety protocols in our retail stores and provided daily shuttle services for our staff to and from the stores. We’re still providing it for the peace of mind of our people.
It was (and still is) a very stressful time for everyone, but we stayed open throughout the ECQ. I’m very fortunate to have highly committed people who showed up every day despite the COVID-19 scare to serve the needs of our customers. They are the reason we were able to quickly adapt to the new normal.
Where do you see the future of the Philippine food scene?
We love to eat and we love to socialise, so the future of the local food scene is bright. Post-pandemic, people will likely be more selective, inquisitive, and attentive about what they eat. They will demand clean and nutritious food, but they would also want produce that is sustainably grown, fair-trade, and meat from humanely raised live stocks. Food growers, manufacturers, and retailers who are not honest or transparent about the ingredients, methods, and origins of their products will likely be avoided by consumers.
Advice for business owners looking to break into the industry?
Have a sense of purpose or a clear mission in what you do. Making money is not a purpose, it’s a result. Find the right people who believe in what you believe. Win their hearts and minds before trying to please your customers. Take good care of your people and they will take good care of your customers.
To what would you attribute the success of your brand?
I choose and hire people who believe in Healthy Options’s values, beliefs and lifestyle. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but I’m pleased to say many of our people have been with me for a decade or more. Healthy Options is successful because of its commitment, hard work, and sacrifices. And I’m the easiest and most patient boss they’ve ever known!