Blue Ocean, Brown Rice. If you can’t beat them, junk them!

‘The color of truth is gray,’ says Andre Gide. What a dull world! What I’m about to show you is that truth is a coat of many colors. Color your world.

Gide, French author, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947. ‘He sought to uncover the authentic self beneath its contradictory masks’ (answers.com). What I’m about to show you is that what Gide sought in his personal life is an apt metaphor to what companies should seek in their business life. And yes, it has something to do with colors other than gray.
The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a reel-life depiction of the sexual abuse by their own father of 2 African American women (imdb.com). These are the infrequent times when family breeds contempt.
The color red is a real-life description of bloody murder in the lives of men and women in business, as the collapse of Wall Street quite dramatically has brought it up.  These are the frequent times when competition brings out the animal in you. So? Avoid competition!
So? I have myself learned in writing to avoid competition – I avoid the negatives that others compete to bring out in the mass media. A cockeyed optimist, I always look at the world through rose-colored glasses. But in fact, being a Virgo, my favorite color is blue.
Blue is beautiful,’ read the TIME report of almost 40 years ago, when psychologists and toy makers found colors did influence a child’s intelligence and imagination (17 September 1973, time.com). Blue was beautiful, and so was yellow, yellow-green or orange. The beautiful colors increased the kinders’ IQs up to 25 points on the average within 18 months. In another study, in imitating actions shown in books, 30-month old toddlers did better with color photographs than with black & white images (Gabrielle Simcock & Judy DeLoache, cited by medicalnewstoday.com). Color is beautiful.
Black is beautiful: Rubens to Dumas’ was an art exhibition in Amsterdam in 2008, a study of black people as seen through the eyes of artists in the Netherlands (codart.nl). Elsewhere, in that same year, black was elevated to the zenith of power. So now we have Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States of America. Black is powerful. Beautiful is a different story.
Brown is beautiful,’ according to Meena Iyer (2007, timesofindia.indiatimes.com), referring to health-based products, bread and confectioneries. ‘But we’re not even breaking even on the health stuff,’ Iyer quotes bakery owners Ajay Gadiyar & Kedar Naik in Andheri. ‘Even though there is good demand, prices are so high that there’s not much profit.’ Andheri is ‘one of the most important (parts) of the lively city of Mumbai’ (mapsofindia.com). Brown was also rejected by the kinders of TIME (as cited). Brown has problems with IQ and health.
Same story with Asia Rice Foundation and brown rice. On 11 August 2000, headed by its ChairEmil Q Javier, Asia Rice launched a campaign to promote brown rice as a health food at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, targeting the LBSC, Los Baños Science Community in the town of Los Baños in Laguna, some 60 km south of Manila. I didn’t know about that until today, surfing. I don’t know if they have been successful. I only know they have not been successful in convincing me to advocate brown rice. Of course, I’m rather difficult to please.
Around the middle of last year, during a lull in a public hearing on the rice crisis, Javier asked me pointblank, ‘Frank, bakit ayaw mo ng brown rice?’ Why don’t you like brown rice? And I answered frankly, ‘Hindi masarap.’ Not my taste. Truth hurts. (He didn't ask me if I could help promote brown rice. Another different story.)
Also last year, Ted Mendoza, a UP Los Baños professor, gifted us with about 5 kilos of brown rice and we cooked it 85% brown to 15% white rice, gave it another try at 50% brown to 50% white, then 25% brown to 75% white. What happened to the taste test? 100% white was best. I said taste; I did not say anything about health.
Health, February 2008 – The experts are urging more consumers ‘to eat more brown rice’ (Sosimo Pablico, 8 February, philstar.com). Brown rice, according to Pablico, ‘is known for its high nutrient content’ and can very well solve malnutrition among Filipinos – ‘hidden hunger,’ as Asia Rice Foundation Chair Emil Q Javier refers to it (beta.irri.org). On his part, Cezar Mamaril, a consultant of PhilRice, Philippine Rice Research Institute, prefers IR841 for brown rice for its good eating quality, aroma and soft texture. In fact, Pablico says, any rice can be milled as brown rice. (That’s news to me.)
Pablico quotes Mamaril as saying, ‘Through brown rice, we can easily make up with (our) rice shortage.’ He tells us the milling recovery of brown rice is 10% higher than white rice. That is to say, if we got 1 million cavans of rice milled white, we could have gotten 100,000 cavans more of rice milled brown. (That should be news to Philippine rice policymakers.)
Health, July 2008 – ‘Eat brown rice and stay healthier,’ writes Rudy A Fernandez (quoted in linafarm.com). Fernandez quotes the Committee on Los Baños Pinawa (a brown rice) as saying, ‘The perception that brown rice is a poor man’s food can be reversed through a campaign promoting its class appeal by introducing high-quality brown rice in hotels, restaurants, health food stores and airlines.’
Brown rice for your health, anyone?
One website shows a figure showing ‘the anatomy of rice’ as an illustration for the article ‘Why brown rice is healthier’ (salagram.net):
Can you guess which highly processed and very popular food contributes to diabetes and, if it wasn’t fortified with vitamins by the manufacturer, a deadly disease – beriberi? That’s right. It’s white rice.
The vast majority of rice eaters won’t touch brown rice. They consider it peasant’s food or animal feed. Yet, the modern health food movement has proven unprocessed grains, including brown rice, to be healthier than their refined counterparts. Certainly, for thousands of years everyone ate brown rice, for the complex processing equipment needed to make white rice was invented only in 1860, in Scotland.
The DA, Department of Agriculture of the Philippines is promoting the use of brown rice as ‘the healthier, more nutritious’ kind (da.gov.ph). One journalist claims that brown can ‘fight colon cancer’ (23 April 2009, malaya.com.ph). ‘Why Filipinos should eat brown rice’ is the title of an article that appears in an online weekly (agribusinessweek.com).
Okay, but I can give you a hundred more reasons why Filipinos don’t eat brown rice. 
Just the other week, during the week-long fiesta celebration in my hometown of Asingan, Pangasinan in Central Luzon, for the first-ever Asingan Agricultural Trade Fair, I was witness to a cookfest, a competition on recipes with the eggplant as the common ingredient. CoordinatorsRoger Daranciang and Nestor Salvador asked me to help in the judging. To be practical, they had decided on using only 3 criteria: Presentation, Appearance, Taste. Really, the contestants came up with many different recipes, never mind the specific garnishings. Never mind the results, but I was thinking like this:
Presentation is #1. If I don’t like how it looks in the overall, that’s a loser. Garnishing is important to the eater, and that’s me. Appearance: If I don’t like how the food itself looks in particular, how it looks after cooking (or not cooking), that’s a double loser. I won’t even taste it.
Overall Lesson: No, you can’t sell brown rice as health food – the very name is its own non-selling point. Presentation is important; appearance is important. Taste is actually the least of your worries. If you want food value, go look for a nutritionist. You have to package it differently. Like Genmaicha – it’s brown rice tea (Connie Veneracion, houseonahill.net). As tea, brown rice becomes a different product.
Brown rice is a product; you want to make it a commodity so that you don’t have to convince people to go out and buy it. So you have to follow the rules of marketing.
In 2000, Asia Rice Foundation started selling the public the idea of brown rice as a health food. But the ocean of health foods is red – bloody red, because of overcrowding, because of savage competition. The trick is to create a blue ocean out of the red ocean for brown rice.
Let’s take our business lessons from W Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne, a Korean and French team of business strategy professors at France’s Insead, 2nd only to Harvard as the largest business school in the world (2009, blueoceanstrategy.com). Their book Blue Ocean Strategy,with the subtitle How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make Competition Irrelevant, was published by Harvard Business School Press on 3 February 2005 and has since sold more than 2 million copies (blueoceanstrategy.com). This is non-fiction.
From what I have learned so far, the blue ocean strategy has this color lesson for brown rice:
Brown rice can’t hop green island to green island until the brown captain moves his gray ship to a blue ocean.
To create a blue ocean for brown rice, Asia Rice can learn from Casella Wines in Australia, which in less than 3 years became the #1 imported wine in the United States, with 11.2 M cases sold in 2004 alone (Renee Mauborgne, 2005, allbusiness.com).
How did Casella create a blue ocean for its Yellow Tail red and white wines?
First, what they did was think out of the box – instead of looking at competing wines, Casella looked across alternatives to wine: beer, spirits, ready-to-drink cocktails. They came up with ‘a fun, easy-to-enjoy wine for every day.’ That is, they created the demand. They added value to their product. No competition!
Then they got their blue ocean strategy out right. Mauborgne says there are 3 defining characteristics of an effective blue ocean strategy: divergence, focus and a compelling tagline. You need a different product to create your own market. You need to focus so you can cut costs. You need a tagline to speak to your market. When you have all 3, then you’re sailing on a blue ocean.
How does that Casella lesson on red and white wines apply to brown rice? My free, unsolicited advice to Asia Rice is this:
Divergence
First, forget about selling nutritional value – if you insist, you’re stuck in the bloody red ocean where you are right now, and you’ll probably never get out of it alive. Next, create a product different from any of the competing health foods. Stop comparing brown rice with white rice. Look less at white rice and look more at competing products to rice. It’s still brown rice, but you package it (I’m not referring to the material) in such a way that it adds value to the life of your target consumer. Like, come up with a new recipe for delicious, different kinirog (Ilocano word for fried rice), so everyone can look forward to breakfast every single day. Don’t you think the word kinirog is exotic and fun at the same time? Make sure brown rice is what makes the difference in taste. The thing is ‘to create a blue ocean of uncontested market space.’ You create that space. You are the genius.
When you do that, when you find the genius in you, here’s a metaphor for you, as I am reminded of one of my favorite poems of Robert Frost; here’s the last stanza:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
And still another metaphor: Differentiating your product is not unlike Andre Gide ‘uncovering the authentic self beneath its contradictory masks’ – genius, you will love what you see emerges.
Focus
Don’t come up with 200 kinirog recipes – 2 is perfect. Don’t compete against yourself. You want to be different and you also want to cut costs. You want to add value to the lives of your customers and not subtract value to your company. But remember: Cut cost, not quality. And why not? Everybody else is cutting on quality! That, unfortunately, is what Filipinos are known for.
Tagline
Atmosphere is what counts. Remember the long-running Volkswagen? ‘The little car that could.’ And the longest-running Marlboro tagline: ‘Come to Marlboro country.’ And the one I like to quote, that for Nokia: ‘Connecting people.’ For brown fried rice, I can think of several taglines, variations of a theme: ‘Kinirog pa, irog?’  More fried rice, love? ‘Irog naman, kinirog pa.’ Love, more fried rice, please. ‘Iniirog ko ang kinirog mo, mahal.’ I love your fried rice, love. ‘Mahal, nasaan ang kinirog?’ Love, where’s the fried rice? Food and fun, that’s what you make it. Science has brought us brown rice, but there’s no fun in science. Like Casella Wines did, you have to put it in. And you know what? With that tagline, you are making friends out of the Ilocanos (kinirog) and the Tagalogs (irog). Isn't that great? I wish for the fun to begin! To paraphrase, with apologies to George Lucas and Star Wars, this is my wish: May the farce be with you.
Another great tagline, this time in science, is that of ICRISAT, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, with William Dar as Team Captain: 'Science with a human face.' To drive home the point of science with fun, to learn from it, to get the hang of the blue ocean strategy, I will now paraphrase it to say, Science with a human farce.
We can also learn from Isaac Asimov, the great science writer:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny ...’
In Shrek, the Dreamworks animated movie, Donkey cries out:
Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Oh, this would be so much easier if I wasn’t color blind!
Don’t be color blind; distinguish the red from the blue. There has never been a true blue rose, ever – if you can breed one, you will be famous and a billionaire overnight. The blue ocean is like a blue, blue rose. But now you can do the impossible; you can make yourself one.
And why did I choose fried rice as my product differentiation for brown rice? Because I can whip up a mean kinirog myself even without garlic, without soy sauce, without eggs, without butter,without toppings of any kind, just cooking oil and table salt – to taste is to believe. The secret is in the cooking. I learned my fried rice from my mother. A very shy boy, when I was still that high, I watched my mother and her Singer, and she taught me how to use the needle to saw by hand as if by machine, and to match colors thread to cloth. Thank God for mothers. They color our world. Thank God for colors!

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