The eldest of six children, Mr. Alfredo Yao started to work at an early age to augment the family income. His father died when he was only 12 years old, and his mother’s earnings as a sidewalk vendor could not support the family’s needs. He would accompany his mother to Chinese gambling dens where he got balato (tips) from the players and met people from all walks of life. With the help of a relative, Mr. Yao was able to complete his elementary and high school education. He went to the Mapua Institute of Technology for college but had to leave after two years.
Mr. Yao did odd jobs and worked at a warehouse of a packaging company. On one of his many trips to a printing press where his cousin worked, Mr. Yao saw potential in the packaging business and decided to invest his time and money in a printing press. Solemar Commercial Press, a printing press for cellophane wrappers of biscuits and candies, was named after his mother and role model. It grew steadily during its first 20 years. Then in 1979, while visiting an exhibit in Europe, Mr. Yao discovered a new technology in packaging called “doy packs.” He saw promise in the technology and bought a machine. Mr. Yao tried to market the idea of doy packs to local juice manufacturers but there were no takers. To put the equipment to use, he started preparing fruit juice in his own kitchen. In 1980, Zest-O juice drink was launched.
Today, Zest-O juice drinks have a total of 12 different flavors and includes in its product line fruit sodas, purees, and kitchen condiments. Zest-O Corporation commands 80% of the total market for ready-to-drink juices in the country. The company also produces popular products like the Sunglo Juice Drink, Big 250 Juice Drink, and Plus! Juice Drink. It also exports mango purees to China, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore, the US, and Europe. From 20 employees in a small corner of the Solemar compound, Zest-O Corporation now has over 1,000 workers in various offices and facilities nationwide.
The company’s success has even helped other industries prosper. Zest-O introduced dalandan (native orange) fruit sodas. All ingredients are sourced from local suppliers of fruits, helping revive the dwindling dalandan-growing business in Southern Luzon. A majority of the growers in these provinces have become contract growers for Zest-O. Its popularity has also penetrated the fashion industry. Handbags made of recycled Zest-O packs are exported to many countries. It has come to symbolize Filipino success and ingenuity while providing income to several women engaged in micro entrepreneurship.
The success of Zest-O has also inspired Mr. Yao to set up other businesses: Semexco Marketing, Inc., Harman Foods, Amchem Marketing, Inc. American Brands Philippines, Inc., SMI Development Corp.,
and Philippine Business Bank.
Mr. Yao was awarded the 2003 Centennial Taxpayer for Caloocan by the Caloocan Regional District Office and the 2005 Outstanding Business of Caloocan by the City of Caloocan.