The Success Story of Puregold and it's founders Lucio and Susan Co

September 28, 2022
Chris Garin

We all know that Lucio Co and his wife Susan Co are among the wealthiest individuals in the Philippines, closely associated with the supermarket chain Puregold. But did you know they actually started out in the oil and minerals exploration industry? Additionally, they are the exclusive distributors of Johnny Walker and Red Bull in the Philippines and own The Keepers, the largest distributor of imported spirits in the country with a massive 74 percent market share.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the origins of Puregold, explore the various companies under Lucio and Susan Co's umbrella, such as S&R, PBCom, and their real estate ventures, and reveal just how vast their business empire truly is. For a more in-depth look, be sure to watch the YouTube video and listen to the podcast I made about Puregold.

Early Days of Puregold

Although Lucio and Susan Co are popularly known for Puregold, they initially ventured into the oil industry with the launch of Cosco Capital in 1988. The couple is notoriously discreet about their personal lives, making information about them scarce. However, during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, while many businesses were collapsing, they saw an opportunity. Markets were crashing, and the cost of basic goods was rising, prompting them to consider opening a stand-alone supermarket without huge markups. They believed this venture could be profitable while also serving the community during tough times.

On December 12, 1998, the first branch of Puregold opened along Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City. Fast-forward to today, and as of November 2021, Puregold boasts over 489 stores nationwide. But what exactly are they doing right?

Puregold's Growth Strategy

Puregold’s primary selling point is its relatively low prices, making it a go-to supermarket for lower-income households, which constitute a significant portion of the Philippine population. Recognizing that many independent sari-sari store owners purchase their inventory from them, Puregold introduced the "Tindahan ni Aling Puring" program. This initiative offers store owners access to bigger discounts, points, and even insurance coverage—a smart move by Puregold.

Another strategic advantage for Puregold is its ability to enter cities or towns that giants like SM and Robinsons might deem too small. If a town's population or spending power isn't attractive enough for SM, they won't open a store there. However, Puregold, positioned primarily for this market, often becomes one of the first stores to pop up. This presence in rural towns is often seen as a signal of development and improvement.

Expanding the Empire: The Acquisition of S&R

While Puregold established a strong brand for the CDE market, they also aimed to capture the higher-income households. Instead of repositioning their brand, which could alienate their existing audience, they acquired S&R in 2012 for over 16.5 billion pesos. S&R, launched in 2001, serves the AB market, making it a perfect complement to Puregold. This acquisition allowed them to cater to both ends of the income spectrum effectively.

More Strategic Acquisitions: Parco and PBCom

In 2012, Puregold wasn't done with its expansion. They spent around 900 million pesos to acquire all 19 branches of their smaller rival, Parco supermarkets. In 2014, Lucio Co ventured into the banking industry by acquiring a 37.67% stake in the Philippine Bank of Communications (PBCom), valued at around 5.98 billion pesos. This acquisition increased Lucio Co’s stake to approximately 49.99% of PBCom, which ranks as the 19th largest bank in the Philippines.

Entering and Exiting the Convenience Store Market

In 2014, Lucio Co brought Lawson's convenience stores to the Philippines, aiming to compete in the fast-growing convenience store sector. Despite investing around 500 million pesos, Puregold decided to exit the business in 2018, selling its 70% stake back to Lawson Inc.

Dominating the Liquor Market

The Co family is also a significant player in the liquor business, distributing leading imported brands such as Johnny Walker, Jose Cuervo, Jim Beam, Jinro, Absolut, Bailey’s, Red Bull, and Perrier. In 2013, they acquired Da Vinci Capital, transforming it into The Keepers Holdings in 2021. The Keepers is now the largest distributor of imported spirits in the Philippines.

Cosco Capital: The Holding Company

At the top of all these ventures is Cosco Capital, the main holding company. Under Cosco, they have subsidiaries in various industries. Ellimac Prime Holdings builds community malls and commercial retail properties. Nation Realty, their mall development arm, is responsible for the 999 Shopping Mall in Binondo. Fertuna Holdings, in partnership with Ayala Land, developed Harbor Point in Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Alcorn Petroleum and Minerals Corporation engages in oil and mining exploration, particularly in Palawan. Office Warehouse specializes in office and school supplies. The Keepers Inc manages their liquor arm, while Puregold and S&R dominate the retail sector.

Over to you

The business empire that Lucio and Susan Co have built is truly impressive, encompassing various industries and demonstrating their strategic acumen and ability to seize opportunities in diverse markets. Puregold’s success story is a testament to the couple’s vision and resilience, turning challenges into opportunities and consistently expanding their influence in the Philippine market.

Stay updated on more inspiring business stories and strategic insights by subscribing to my YouTube channel and following my podcast. If you found this article helpful, watch the YouTube video and listen to the podcast I made about Puregold for a deeper dive into their incredible journey. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more content like this!

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