by BusinessWorld, September 26, 2017
Founder and CEO
Fruitas Group of Companies
The food industry thrives in a fast-paced environment where survival can be fierce.
Players need to continuously think of new ideas and concepts.
Lester Yu, 42, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Fruitas Group of Companies, has taken this to heart.
In just 15 years, he has introduced 18 brands to Filipino consumers.
With a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from De La Salle University and University of the Philippines, respectively, Mr. Yu started his career in banking.
He later tried several businesses such as jewelry, gold trading and cellphone load cards.
He eventually ventured into food and beverages. Drinking fresh orange juice every morning, Mr. Yu thought of a potential market for affordable fresh fruit juices. At the time, fresh fruit drinks were costly and usually available only in hotels and high-end restaurants. This prompted Mr. Yu to retail affordable fresh fruit shakes.
Knowing that his beverage competitors were mostly concentrated in high-end locations like the Makati and Ortigas business districts, Mr. Yu opened his first food cart kiosk in the city of Manila, which proved to be a strategic location with good foot traffic.
He used his savings to start the business. Unable to afford staff, he had to run the business alone – from driving the trucks to delivering fruits, managing the outlet and working as a store service crew.
His business picked up because Filipinos were beginning to get into fitness and healthy living, particularly the growing popularity of running.
Mr. Yu established the company in 2002. His vision is for the company to become a conglomerate. He has explored other food and beverage products because he knows that fruit shakes alone will not be enough for the business to expand.
Mr. Yu prefers his business to be homegrown. Instead of anchoring its growth on franchising, he branched out to various food categories and continues setting up of commissaries, building up the portfolio of brands being offered by the Fruitas Group.
Today, the Fruitas Group has over 850 stores nationwide, 80% of which are company-owned. From its humble beginnings as a one-man kiosk, the Fruitas Group now has 2,000 employees who retail 18 brands under three categories, namely: the leaders (including Fruitas, Buko ni Fruitas, Juice Avenue, Buko Loco, Jamaican Pattie and Johnn Lemon), the followers (like Black Pearl, Friends Fries and Fancie Frozen Yogurt) and the niche (La Petite Parisienne).
Mr. Yu gave his take on the company’s growth: “We want to grow big to have power – the power to help people, the power to help our country.”
This desire to help can be gleamed from the company’s hiring practice — personnel include senior citizens and the hearing-impaired.
The company also works exclusively with local traders and suppliers for their ingredients, in support of local farmers.
As part of his company’s participation in the community, Mr. Yu has put up CCTVs all over his barangay in Quezon City, where he continuously conducts feeding programs. He is also an advocate of education, offering scholarships under the “Touched by Fruitas” program.
When the firm was growing, it initially encountered some people-related challenges. He realized how important it was to hire good staff, manage them effectively and inspire them to develop their potential.
For the company to realize its vision to be a conglomerate, Mr. Yu has invested in a research and development team to focus on innovations such as developing variants of one product.
By balancing flexibility, entrepreneurship and fiscal discipline, Mr. Yu is confident that the Fruitas Group of Companies will continue to forge ahead against competitors. Furthermore, Mr. Yu believes that one thing that helps the company innovate is the fact it has its own commissaries.
In 2015, Mr. Yu incorporated The Lush Co. as the primary holder of Buko Ni Fruitas, Inc.; Fruitas Group, Inc. and Negril Trading, among others. Mr. Yu shared that an initial public offering is being planned for early 2018. He will also be exploring international franchising. To cater to all age groups, he will also be opening a food park targeting millennials.
Mr. Yu reminds aspiring entrepreneurs that entering a business should be a primary focus, not an alternative. Moreover, success does not happen overnight – it entails sacrifice, hard work and discipline, which are fundamental values that he acquired from his parents.
The official airline of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2017 is Philippine Airlines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Banquet Sponsors are Bench; Bounty Fresh Food, Inc.; CDO Foodsphere; Fiori Di Marghi; Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc.; Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc.; Intermed Marketing Phils., Inc.; Jollibee Foods Corp.; LBC; SteelAsia and Universal Harvester, Inc.
The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017 will be named in an Oct. 18 awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young.
*This article is copied from BusinessWorld as published in the newspaper, page S1/1 and page S1/3. This article is also available online at http://bworldonline.com/the-fruits-of-his-labor/