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Congratulations to Zesto on its 35th year !!!

I didn’t realize this brand has been around that long.  I remember my kids having fun with their orange and grape fruit juices in their grade school years and seeing these brightly-colored tetra packs in the refrigerator whenever I ventured into the kitchen, and now it’s 35 years old?

It was actually when Business & Leisure, the television show, decided to feature the company in its Corporate Profile segment that I learned about the history, and much about the company’s founder Mr. Alfred S. Yao that I got to know more about this iconic Filipino drink.

The founder, Mr. Yao, lost his father at the young age of 12, and from then on he was conscious of the need to help out the family.  His mother sold goods in the market to eke out a living, and as early as 17 years old, just out of high school, he started working.

He must have been hardworking, enough to venture into a business soon after and his first company was named Solemar after his mother Soledad.  This was a printing press for packaging, printing cellophane wrappers for biscuits and candies. This was in the ‘60s, and he remembers that in 1968, plastic overrun the cellophane as a preferred packaging option.

About 10 years later, the young Alfred was in France to attend a trade show and there he saw new developments in packaging.  He liked what he saw, particularly the new tetra packs, and right there and then he firmed up an order for the machinery.  Back home, even before the machines arrived, he went the rounds of his clients, offering them this new type of packaging, but since these businessmen already had their operations down pat, there were no takers for his new ideas.

What to do with the machines—that was his dilemma. There was only one solution—make your own drinks to introduce the new packaging to the Philippines.

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And that was how Zesto came to be.

Actually, it wasn’t that simple.  He had to have a formulation for the orange drink that would be affordable, so he contacted the right people.  Next, he wanted to have an attractive packaging that would instantly catch the eye.  A friend linked him up with a college professor who was into arts and graphics.  Using five to six bright colors, the new product came with a name—Zest-o.

The first Zesto (orange) was introduced to the Philippine market in 1980. The test market was Divisoria, and interestingly, people thought of it as an imported product because the pack bore bar codes which were not used in the country back then. And slowly, the company’s small team of marketing and distribution eventually invaded the bigger supermarkets with shelves and shelves of their product.  It wasn’t easy, the company was new and so was the product, but his team was dedicated and persistent.

An interview with some of the marketing people revealed the reason for their focus and sheer determination to penetrate the market that was then dominated by the big multinational companies. Their respect and admiration for their CEO and founder who displayed not only a fearless drive to succeed, but also a kind and understanding father to his employees, became their driving force to make Zesto a household name.

Where before, they had a difficult time offering their products to the supermarkets, the time came when, as soon as the Zesto truck was parked, the dealers were there waiting to load the boxes into their own trucks, not even waiting for them to be unloaded into the warehouse.

From its humble beginnings in Divisoria, Zesto became the no. 1 juice drink in the Philippines, besting all other products including the well-known imported ones.  The phenomenal success of this new product did not go unnoticed in the region either.  When the first ever Asean Business Awards was held in Singapore in 2007, Zesto was awarded as the ‘Most Admired Asean Enterprise’ for the innovation category.  It still holds the distinction of being the only Filipino company that ever won the award.

Riding high on the success of its orange juice drink, Zesto soon introduced other variants of juices like kalamansi flavor, grape, etc. And after that, the company came out with other products as well, like their root beer and colas in cans. Their marketing efforts were enhanced and they were very visible in print ads and on television, and they could even afford to have popular personalities the likes of Jolina Magdangal as endorser of their brand.

The success of the product lies in several factors, not the least of which is the novel packaging.  The aluminium packaging of the new tetra pack was durable, and the design and colors were very attractive on the shelves.  The product could instantly catch the eye of the shopper, and the name had instant recall.  The packaging also had inherent benefits—they were light and easy for school children to pack and they were fast cooling.  And the bar codes catered much to our colonial mentality back then.

Because of its wide acceptance in the market, the company has not altered anything as far as the juice drinks are concerned.  Not the quality or the taste. What you got in 1980 is still what you are getting today. Indeed, “why fix it when it ain’t broke.”

Not only in the business community was the skills and business acumen of Alfred S. Yao recognized.  He was given the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2005, two years before the Asean business community honoured Zesto as a most respected brand in the region.

Fulfilment is what this gifted entrepreneur feels after 35 years of success. He has developed an iconic drink in a land then dominated by imported products. His breakthrough product became so iconic that his slogan then, “Laking Zesto” was widely used and accepted.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino!!!

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