A Tale of Sickness, Health, Pili Nuts and Honey

An interview with Terry Tong, a Pili Pusher and lover of stingless honey bees.

Terry Tong and I met over tea one afternoon and what transpired was a few hours that were both educational and enjoyable. Having contacted me in December, it was not until mid January when we got a chance to talk. By then I was already intrigued by his company GTCL. This was because GTCL’s website was beautiful (probably influenced by his years as a brand consultant) and also because I had never heard of a pili nut or honey from stingless bees.

Terry is one of the founders of GTCL, an abbreviation of Gourmet Taste, Conscious Life. A name like that embodies so much about what Vanilla Beige loves! So we had to meet. Terry and his partner, Gary Chin are the pair behind GTCL, the brand that brings us raw and activated pili nuts under the name Pili Pushers and Anaya which brings us raw Trigona honey from stingless bees.

For a limited time only, take advantage of a 15% discount by using the code GTCLVANILLA when you check out the gtclife/shop. This offer is only valid until 28th Feb 2018.

It was a pleasure talking to you, Terry! Thanks so much for taking the time.

 Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Our background was in advertising and branding. Both Gary and I spent years in that industry before GTCL. For me working in the corporate world was burning me out. At that time, I was helping a lot of my clients build their brands but many projects did not carry forward the way it was envisioned. I realised that, as a consultant, you read a lot about how brands succeed or fail – these are still theoretical. I was curious to put my consulting experience to practice, and build something for myself. Having a bit more experience now in business has helped me to see what works and how businesses see brands in all practicality.

How did GTCL (the brand behind Pili Pushers and Anaya) get started?

It started because of illness in the family. That was when we became a lot more conscious about what we ate. We began to research more about the food we ate – how it is grown and how it is processed. Knowing these things helped us to understand the need to eat clean, fresh food.

We also wanted to snack better and when we first started, it was hard to find clean healthy snacks that were still delicious. It was not until a business trip to the Philippines that we discovered raw pili nuts. Pili nut brittle was considered a regional delicacy there, but the raw ones were completely different. This discovery really compelled us to share more about raw pili nuts with friends and family.

I’m really looking forward to learning and sharing more about pili nuts and Trigona raw honey on Vanilla Beige. Why are these the two products you’ve chosen to focus on?

Pili nuts have been growing wild in volcanic soil on the Philippines for centuries. They are also hand harvested and rather unique in flavour. These creamy nuts are packed with Vitamin E – the most of any nut – and lots of magnesium. We wanted to retain their natural goodness and flavour and allow people to enjoy them as well. We sell our pili nuts under our brand Pili Pushers.

I love that name! So apt and I think I’m addicted already. Why are your pili nuts so good?

They naturally taste good, however, we also activate them first. Activation is the process of pre-sprouting nuts, seeds and grains. After they are activated, we dehydrate them. The activation process makes the nutrients in pili nuts more bio-available and easily digestible. Then we have also developed our own healthy flavours for our pili nuts. These use all natural ingredients and are without any preservatives, artificial flavours or additives. So while you can get your hands on plain, raw pili nuts or simply salted ones, we also have some that are coated in raw cacao or ginger and tumeric. Our cinnamon and raw honey are really popular too. Pili nuts contain the highest level of Vitamin E and also magnesium. They are powerful antioxidants and help us fight stress which mean they are pretty much guilt-free indulgences for us! 🙂

I know which one is my favourite – all of them! For the honey, your brand is Anaya and it has such a unique flavour. Can you tell me more about this?

Our Anaya honey has Trigona honey which is produced by stingless bees. We actually found this special honey while we were visiting the pili nut farm. There we met the Trigona honey bee keepers. They had actually been corporate workers when they found out that, in the Philippines, farmers were actually killing insects while their fruit trees were blooming. The bee keepers decided to leave their corporate jobs and help educate farmers about the importance of bee pollination.

They now teach farmers how to rear stingless bees, the ones that produce this amazing Trigona honey. They’re now seeing some amazing results. For examples, farmers are experiencing a crop yield increase by 40% and they no longer need to spray their fruit crops with pesticides. At the same time, the honey produced by these bees are beneficial to health and taste good too. Because these bees pollinate crops such as mango, pineapple, tamarind, lychee, coconut, and calamansi, you will find these flavours in our Anaya honey. 

Our Ayana Trigona honey was sent for antibacterial testing in Singapore and the results showed that it kills 83% of bad bacteria. Our honey also only contains 17% sugar which is much lower than the 70-80% sugar levels of typical honey.

You know so much about food production for nuts and honey! What is it that you love most about your Pili Nuts and Anaya raw honey?

What I love about my products is that they are both very natural products. For example, the pili nuts are wild-foraged, they are not genetically modified and are really better than organic. The nuts come in different sizes and even vary slightly in flavour as each nut is an individual piece.

Our honey is also raw, natural and will vary slightly in taste due to the change in seasons. The honey itself tastes so unique – sweet and sour with bright notes of mango, pineapple, tamarind, lychee and coconut. I would not in a million years imagine I would be able to taste something so unique. I personally recover very quickly from a cold after taking the honey and in fact, we have received many testimonials about the effectiveness of our honey against our customers influenza and coughs.

I agree with what you say about the flavour of your honey. I was also surprised by the flavour and loved it. I have never in my life tasted anything like it!
So what is GTCL all about? What do you believe in? 

We believe that all businesses should have a heart. This is why we make it a point to ensure that not only our customers benefit from our products, but also everyone else along the value chain. When we all benefit from this relationship, I feel it is a healthier approach towards business. Many a times we have witnessed how one person in the value chain tries to ‘manage’ costs, with an adverse effect on everyone else. From cutting corners or using chemicals instead of a more natural process, many people and our environment will stand to lose.

Who do you think would most appreciate your pili nuts and Anaya raw honey?

I think anyone who is looking to eat better and appreciates the benefits from natural products will love both our pili nuts and honey.

Is there any advice you’d give to someone wanting to start their own business?

Start your business with a passion, but always think about sustainability of it holistically. Try to find a mentor so that you will make less mistakes. Lastly you need to persevere. We will always be bugged with the question of why we are doing this etc, but stick to your course and follow your instincts.

Thanks Terry! It was really enjoyable talking to you and I also loved the samples of nuts and honey you had me try. I’m looking forward to sharing more about both these unique products on Vanilla Beige soon.

For more information visit http://www.gtclife.com/

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Angela Manners loves finding an interesting story and talking to people about what they are passionate about. She is Australian but was born in Bangkok, grew up in Southeast Asia and then studied in America. Angela is passionate about coffee, food and everything that surrounds them.
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