By Ellaine Kryss Hubilla

Nowadays, a lot of people are conscious about the kind of food they consume. It has always been a challenge to find something to eat which is both healthy and delicious. No one understands this challenge more than Arvin Kisig Lopez, founder of Vegetari Healthy Bites.

Reaching out to other vegetarians

Despite being a vegetarian for 17 years now, Lopez still searches for that distinctive taste and texture of animal meat in the food he eats; this is because he spent some of his younger years eating meat-based products.

Because he wants to live a long life and see his kids grow, taking care of his health through the kind of food he eats is important for him. However, with the previously low market demand for plant-based products, it was a struggle to find healthy, yet delicious vegan food.

Vegetari Health Bites Seacharon in Nori Seaweed flavor.

Unsatisfied with salt-laden, high-fat corn chips available in the market, the Lopez family started developing their own vegan snacks and sharing it with others who have the same lifestyle. Through Vegetari Healthy Bites, Lopez and his family were able to share their food innovations.

However, he admitted that it was hard to market plant-based products. When the brand was first established, not many people were engaged in a vegetarian lifestyle. But the demand for vegan products increased when people started to care about the environment and for other forms of life on the planet.

Lifestyle turned into bread and butter

Vegetari Healthy Bites offers various products like frozen veggie meat, ready-to-eat meals, and snacks that are flavorful, healthy, and made from all-natural ingredients. With the use of tapioca starch, vegetarian mushroom seasoning, vegetable seasoning, and salt, Lopez was able to develop delicious, tasty snacks such as Chichashroom, Seacharon, and Seedcharon—all plant-based innovations of popular Filipino delicacy chicharon, which is originally made from seasoned deep-fried pigskin.

Chichashroom is made from mushroom, seasoned with tapioca starch, vegetarian mushroom seasoning, and salt. It has four flavors; shitakii, oyster, button, and straw mushroom. Seacharon is made from seaweeds and has two flavors, nori and kelp. Seedcharon, on the other hand, is made from edible plant seeds like sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and black pepper seeds.

Lopez shared that he wasn’t able to finish his studies. However, utilizing the kind of lifestyle he has paved the way to his success. According to him, “I can express my creative ideas [by] satisfying people with healthy and delicious food.”

Today, he sells his plant-based products in various malls and supermarkets all over Luzon. A 30-gram pack of Chichashroom, 25-gram pack of Seacharon, or 50-gram pack of Seedcharon retails for P125, while a 70-gram pack of Chichashroom or 60-gram pack of Seacharon retails for P230.

Vegetari Healthy Bites’ mushroom grower 

Some varieties of mushrooms used to process vegetarian snacks are imported, but the oyster mushroom variety comes from Lopez’s trusted mushroom grower, Efren Exconde, a farmer based in Laguna who has a 500 sq. m. mushroom farm that includes a production area for fruiting bags and growing house for white oyster mushrooms.

Efren Exconde in his mushroom farm during harvest time.

Aside from the oyster mushroom that Exconde produces, he also sells fruiting bags of white oyster mushrooms that provide him additional income. Fruiting bags allow you to easily mix mushroom spawn after they had been treated with vaccines to prevent diseases and fight against fungus.

According to Exconde, it is important to place a mushroom growing house in an area with proper ventilation, temperature, and which receives enough sunlight so mushrooms can grow with good quality. He also shared that Vegetari Healthy Bites is helping him as a mushroom grower by availing of his product, whose quality justifies its P200 per kilo price.

Health and environmental impacts of plant-based products

Vegetari Healthy Bites not only provides a healthier alternative for people looking for plant-based snacks, but it also helps the status of the environment. One of the brand’s advocacies is “Lite in every bite,” where each product serving contains 40% fewer calories than the average non-vegan snack of the same type. Chichashroom, Seacharon, and Seedcharon are 25% less fatty compared to regular chicharon.

Also, plant-based products don’t contain any cholesterol and have a relatively low carbon footprint, which helps reduce the impact of climate change and global warming.

Moreover, people who suffer from gluten allergy and celiac disease can still consume Chichashroom and Seacharon products because they are gluten-free and made from all-natural ingredients.

The brand is now successful in promoting tasty and guilt-free plant-based products. It also provides jobs to 50 individuals including a nutritionist, a food scientist, engineers, and partner farmers. Lopez stated that the business not only provides profit to him and his family, but it also helps farmers and mushroom growers sustain their livelihood. (Photos courtesy of Arvin Kisig Lopez)

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2020 issue.