Alfred Yao: The Juice King of the Philippines

“The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.” – Geoffrey Gaberino, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist

AMBASSADOR Alfredo Yao is one of the most admired businessmen in the Philippines today. The two flagship companies of his sprawling Zesto Group are the Zest-O-Corp. and RC Cola—enterprises built on the foundation of Fred’s enormous enthusiasm for finding another way.

Fred’s story is yet another rags-to-riches tale of a self-made businessman who rose from poverty through hard work and determination. I first met Fred more than two decades ago when he invited me to drop by his run down two-story office in Manila to discuss a townhouse project located in Quezon City. It was aptly called Villa Soledad in honor of his mother.

Fred became a breadwinner at an early age after his father died when he was only 12 years old. He is the eldest of six children. Being penniless, he started to work to help the family because his mother’s earnings as a sidewalk vendor could not support their needs. He would accompany his mother to Chinese gambling dens to sell. Through the help of a relative, he was able to finish his elementary and high school education. However, he was unable to complete his college education at the Mapua Institute of Technology. But Fred worked hard and did odd jobs such as working in a warehouse of a packaging company. Through a cousin who was employed in a printing press, Fred learned the ropes on printing cellophane wrappers for candies and biscuits and went on to venture into operating a printing press business. It gave birth to Solemar Commercial Press, named after his mother. The business thrived for about 20 years.

In 1979, while touring Europe, Fred came to discover the packaging format called ‘Doypack’ in one of the exhibits. It was then the latest European packaging technology. He bought the machine and tried to market the idea of using the Doypack format to local juice manufacturers in the Philippines but nobody seemed interested. Never one to lose faith, Fred began making juices enthusiastically in his own kitchen and packaged them using the equipment he had just bought. His optimism was not misplaced. Zest-O orange drink was launched within the next two years and became a hit with moms who saw the practicality of putting the light but tightly packed orange drinks in their kid’s lunch boxes. Children loved it that their chilled fruit drinks stayed cold and fresh till snack time.

Today, Zest-O drinks come in many variants and command 80 percent of the market for fruit juices. It has expanded its business to China, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore, the US and Europe and has helped revitalize the fruit growing industry in the provinces, particularly the Philippine’s native orange variety called “dalandan”. The doypacks are being recycled by local cottage industries into handbags and are now being exported to other countries. Popularly known as the “Juice King”, he is not just the CEO of Zest-O Corp. but also the founder of several ventures – Philippine Business Bank, Summit Hotel and Resorts Specialists, Semexco Marketing, SMI Development Corp., among others.

Some of his notable achievements include being the: (1) 2014 MVP Grand Bossing Award; (2) 2005 Ernst and Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year; and (3) Most Admired ASEAN Enterprise Award for Innovation. He also served as the special envoy to China for tourism cooperation. Thus, Alfredo Yao proved that choice, not circumstances, determines success. When we met up again as co-speakers in a recent Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry event where he served as its Past President, I asked him again his secret to success on stage and he humbly said: “…hard work, perseverance and foresight, plus having the right people working with me to develop and sustain the business are key elements to my success.”




Prof Enrique Soriano is a World Bank/IFC Governance Consultant, Senior Advisor of Post and Powell Singapore and the Executive Director of Wong + Bernstein, a research and consulting firm in Asia that serves family businesses and family foundations. He was formerly Chair of the Marketing Cluster at the ATENEO Graduate School of Business in Manila, and is currently a visiting Senior Fellow of the IPMI International School in Jakarta.

He is an associate member of the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) and an advisor to business families worldwide, a sought after governance speaker, book author and have written more than 200 articles and publications, including two best-selling Family Business books (Ensuring Your Family Business Legacy 2013 and 2015). You can read Prof Soriano’s business articles for free at