It was the mid-1960s and my husband was working for Del Monte Pineapple Corporation, so we lived in Camp Philips, Bukidnon, just like many other Del Monte workers and their families did. Being an American company, Del Monte had a tradition of giving away one leg of American country-style ham to each of their staff every Christmas. My husband’s family, who hails from Cebu, loved the ham so much that I decided to try making my own. You see, hogs at that time were really small, so with just the one leg of ham we receive each Christmas, there wasn’t really much to share.
So I set about learning how to make American country-style ham. It wasn’t that difficult because I already had a passion for cooking. It was a lengthy process, though—the curing alone takes at least 30 days. To make sure the meat was perfectly cured, I had to tie my refrigerator with a ribbon so no one would open it and disrupt the curing process! When my friends would come for a visit, they would ask why there was a ribbon around my refrigerator and I would say it was a secret.
Finally, when my first batch of ham was ready, I had friends over for dinner and revealed my secret. To my delight, they all loved the ham that I prepared and suggested that I start selling them. I had already thought of making a small business out of my newfound hobby, but the recommendation of my friends was perhaps the final push that I needed. As a courtesy to Del Monte, which was providing us with free housing and utilities (electricity, water, etc.), I informed them of my plans to sell American country-style ham. Fortunately, they approved of my plans. And that was how SLERS* began.
At the time, the only kind of ham being sold in the country was Chinese ham. So when I started selling my own style of ham and sending some to my husband’s family in Cebu, people loved it primarily because it was something new; an alternative to Chinese ham. In making my own ham, I combined the American and Chinese styles; the SLERS ham was meaty, juicy, and not too salty. Soon enough, I was getting orders, not just from our neighborhood, but from other parts of the country as well. In fact, there were orders from as far as Metro Manila!
In 1969, the business was registered with the National Cottage Industries Development Administration (NACIDA) and I was granted a PHP5,000 loan. Among my first loyal customers were military officers who sent helicopters from Manila to Bukidnon just to buy SLERS ham. One day, I was amazed when I received a bulk order from the National Sugar Trading Corporation (NASUTRA) in Manila for 5,000 legs of ham! I wasn’t even sure I could make that many hams, but with the help of my husband, who created a makeshift cold storage for my business, and a few assistants, we were able to deliver. Those hams had to be shipped in a 20-ft refrigerated container van!
I had fun running my ham business from our humble home in Bukidnon. But in 1987, my husband and I came to Cagayan de Oro and we both decided to retire. My daughter, Litlit, had just come home from Manila and I decided to turn the business over to her. I am glad I did because she has proven very capable and has expanded the business to the SLERS you know today.
SLERS is an acronym that stands for Shirley, Litlit, Earl, Ray, and Sharon—the nicknames of Fely’s five children.
When asked what the secret of SLERS’ success is, Fely was quick to answer: “Quality, of course! Through the years, we have never compromised on the quality of our products and we never will.”