I grew up like the majority of Filipinos who mostly just stared at apples, oranges and grapes at select stores that sold them.
These fruits became rare and expensive because of the long drawn import restrictions the country faced in the eighties all the way toward the turn of the 20th century.
The Philippine government for a long time didn’t have the dollar reserves to support consumer imports, drained in large part by massive corruption during the Marcos era and over borrowing.
A foreign debt crisis emerged that pushed our country into a stringent belt tightening program so we can pay back our creditors led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
It took a long time to solve the problem. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears mostly from the millions of Filipinos, who up to now are still working abroad and sending money back home.
Add to that the strong resolve from our smart economic managers through the decades to never default and keep paying down our debts. The tax restructuring that makes us pay among the highest taxes in the world amidst poor public service.
The US dollar receipts from the now burgeoning outsourcing businesses further increased the momentum in building up our international reserves which currently stands at over US$80 billion. This is 11 times the level of our monthly importations and much more than sufficient for our foreign debt service requirements. We have even become a net lender to the IMF.
What this all means to the ordinary consumer is the ability to gain access to any kind of consumer products and services imaginable with import restrictions long gone and large retailers making a strong push to quickly grow their number of stores in as many communities as possible. Supermarkets, hypermarkets, convenience stores and minimarts are sprouting like mushrooms not just in Metro Manila but all across the country.
A race for space has begun to create and grab market share in areas where formal retailers never dared go in the past. Apples, oranges and grapes now abound in different varieties from different countries.
With them emerged other kinds of imported fruits, meats, fish, vegetables, canned products, and household goods. And because there is greater competition, local products too have stepped up giving shoppers a new problem of choosing what’s best to suit their needs and emerging lifestyles.
Shopping for groceries has become a real delight and a pastime for families who like seeing new items pop up in shelves. More stores are better designed with vibrant colors, better lighting and air conditioning, wider aisles, cleaner wet sections and friendly staff. For impulse buyers, the convenience stores and minimarts suit their grab-and-go lifestyles having them near their homes and offices.
Looking back from my childhood days, I didn’t expect this to come anytime sooner than it has.
Life has indeed gotten a lot better and brighter. Mix that with a bunch of warm and friendly people, it makes living in the Philippines much more fun these days. It seems too from where I sit at my office in SM, more shopping fun is yet to come.