How a street vendor grew up to become the Philippines’ Juice King

Isabel Salvosa
How a street vendor grew up to become the Philippines’ Juice King
For Zest-O founder Alfredo Yao, the hard work began when he was just 13 years old

MANILA, Philippines — Remember those Zest-O juice drinks you used to bring to school? For a lot of Filipinos, these were childhood staples. 

But Zest-O founder Alfredo Yao’s own youth was cut short when his father died. He spent the rest of it running a stall in the streets of Blumentritt. As the eldest in a brood of six, the 13-year-old stepped up to help support his family. 

“I don’t know how to explain how hard it is, looking for 3 meals a day,” he shared. 

He was able to finish high school with some help from a distant relative, but had to stop after graduating at 17 years old. Instead, he set up a packaging business with a starting capital of P3,000, which he borrowed from his mother. 

Yao vividly remembers the night he asked for the money. “My mom was telling me, ‘Anak, itong tatlong libo, buhay na natin.’ (Son, this P3,000 is our whole life.) I said, ‘I’ll try. I’ll do my best.’”

With the P3,000, he bought machines via installment. Yao ran the business from the ground up, working as both its machine operator and salesman. 

He described the experience during the early years as a day-to-day struggle. 

While on a business trip to Europe in 1979, he saw the type of packaging now known as the doypack. He brought the new technology back home, intending to sell doypack-type packaging to juice manufacturers. But they all declined.

Yao called it a blessing in disguise. “Nobody wanted to use that type of packaging. So what I did is to produce my own juice. Nando’n na yung makina eh. (Besides, we already have the machine.) And it’s history now — it’s Zest-O.”

HARD WORK. Yao singlehandedly led Zest-O Corporation to success.

Yao is now hailed as the country’s Juice King. Zest-O Corporation also went on to diversify its product range, offering canned drinks, noodles, condiments, toothpaste, and detergent.  

Yao dreams of seeing Zest-O go international. As of now, the brand has plants in Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar. 

Not content with Zest-O’s legacy, Yao branched out with firms such as Zest Airways (now Air Asia), Philippine Business Bank, Asiawide Refreshments Corporation (RC Cola), Movenpick Resort & Spa Boracay Island, Summit Hotel & Resort Specialist Inc., Macay Holdings Inc., Semexco Marketing, Inc., Solmac Marketing, Inc., Harman Foods Philippines Inc., and Amchem Marketing, Inc.

The self-made entrepreneur proves that sometimes school can’t teach you business acumen — life experiences will. 

He believes that without integrity, he wouldn’t have reached this level of success. 

“If I promise somebody that I will pay you on Friday, I’ll make sure that by Friday I will pay you. That’s how I started my credit line.”

BLESSED. Having made it through all his struggles, Yao calls himself guided by God.

From a sidewalk palaboy, Yao has come a long way. 

But the business magnate still has doubts. “In a very competitive world nowadays, you don’t know what will happen to you. But if you’re confident in yourself, that [will] lessen your fear.” —

PLDT Enterprise, the country’s leading ICT and digital services provider, relaunches the MVP Bossing Awards — highlighting the role of local entrepreneurship in nation-building. Now on its 8th year, the MVP Bossing Awards has recognized over 80 iconic business leaders throughout its history. Yao was awarded as the 2013 MVP Grand Bossing.

The new batch of MVP Bossings will be awarded on October 25. 

For more stories about past MVP Bossings, visit this link

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