The Hong Kong Family that Built $1.5 Billion Soy Milk Empire
Perhaps not as inspiring as a Silicon-Valley tech startup, but the story and success of Le Kwee Seong from Hong Kong and his soy milk business surely has a lot to teach to young entrepreneurs. Bloomberg recently did a story about this multi-million business and we decided to dig it a little further.
In 1940, four years after listening to U.S commercial attaché Julian Arnold about virtues of soybean and its nutrition value as milk, Mr. Lo Kwee Seong of Hong Kong laid the foundation to his soy milk business. In the era when milk was a luxury to working class, Lo’s soy milk as nutritional supplement became an instant hit. Since Vitasoy Int. Holdings Limited went for Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 1994, its share price has grown exponentially by nearly 3,500%. It currently operates in 40 international markets and the Lo family’s net interest in this business is estimated to be well over $1.5 billion as of today.
Vitasoy has become an internationally known brand and among the most recognizable in Hong Kong. It is also a key supplier of Starbucks Corporation, a global coffee giant. In recent years, the global soy milk market has grown at a quick rate and, at present, the global market is estimated to be well above $15 billion. Vitasoy alone posted revenue of over $567 million for its first two-quarters last year. Approximately half of Vitasoy’s revenue comes from mainland China alone; however, it has been working to increase its outreach and explore new markets.
All major indicators point towards the tremendous success Lo and his Vitasoy has achieved throughout decades. The company’s share price has grown by nearly 44% in the current year alone and analysts seem hopeful for similar progress in the near future.
Like some other successful stories, the $5.8 billion worth Vitasoy’s story is also that of continuous improvement, innovation, and customer-centered approach. Over the years, the company diversified its offerings to include purified water, tofu, lemon tea and juices among a few other products. Recently, it also re-branded its main product, soy milk, as natural and healthy nutrition source as more and more people began to have a hard time with lactose intolerance.
Despite a public company, Vitasoy from Hong Kong remains largely a family-managed business. While the company founder, Lo, died in 1995, several family members are still actively involved in the company’s management at high positions. Lo’s son Winston is the company’s Chairman, daughter Yvonne works as a director and grandson Peter serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the company.