Lo Kwee-seong

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Lo Kwee-seong
Chairman of Vitasoy
Succeeded byWinston Lo
Personal details
Born(1910-02-02)2 February 1910
Died5 May 1995(1995-05-05) (aged 85)
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Lo Shing
RelationsVictor Lo Tang-Seong (founder of Café de Coral)
Lo Fong-cheung (founder of Fairwood)
ChildrenLo Kai Muk (1933-1997)
Myrna Lo Mo Ching (b.1939)
Frank Lo Yau Yee (b.1940)
Winston Lo Yau Lai (b.1941)
Yvonne Lo Mo Ling (b.1948)
ParentsLo Chin Hing (b.1875)
Lo Wong Yee Mui (b.1875)

Dr. Lo Kwee-seong, CBE, JP (traditional Chinese: 羅桂祥; simplified Chinese: 罗桂祥; pinyin: Luó Guìxiáng; Jyutping: lo4 gwai3 coeng4; 2 February 1910 – 5 May 1995) was a Hong Kong businessman, investor and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Vitasoy, a well-known soymilk drink company in Hong Kong. He was also an unofficial member of the Urban Council and the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and the chairman of the Hong Kong Consumer Council.

Early life and education[edit]

Lo was born in Meixian county in Guangdong of Hakka descent on 2 February 1910. His father, Lo Chin-hing took the family to Malaya when he was ten years old and arrived in Hong Kong when he was twenty years old. After graduating from secondary school in 1929, Lo wanted to go to China and study civil engineering but his family was not able to support him. For that, his father's employer offered a scholarship for Lo to study Economics at the University of Hong Kong where he graduated from in 1935.[1]

Early soymilk venture[edit]

Lo joined the company of his patron after graduation and was appointed Hong Kong manager of the real estate branch. During a business trip in Shanghai in 1937, he attended a talk called "Soybeans: the cow of China" presented by Julean Arnold, then the commercial attache to the American Embassy in Nanking and actively involved in relief work using soymilk. He later wrote, "Arnold called the soybean the 'Cow of China' and practically attributed to it the preservation of the Chinese race. He said that the fact that the Chinese as a race were able to maintain the physical fitness for over 5,000 years in a land where meat was so rare was entirely due to the people's inclusion of soybeans in their diet. I was impressed by his talk and came away with soybeans stuck in my mind."[2]

Two years later when he was volunteering at the Argyle Street refugee camp where the Chinese refugees fled from the Japanese invasion of China, he was appalled the poor nutritional condition of the refugees, many of whom were sick with beriberi and pellagra. Soybean came to Lo's mind. He raised some moe to buy a stone grinder, soybeans, brown sugar and cheese-cloth with some friends to teach refugees to make soymilk. Lo later wrote, "the results were quite startling, as many of them showed significant improvement in their health after the first month." The experiment gave Lo full confidence in the nutritional value of soy bean milk.[2]

After the event, he decided to go into the soymilk business, to make soymilk "available to the masses of the people in Hong Kong who could not afford to buy cow's milk." He formed the Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Company with his friends with paid-up capital of HK$15,000 in 1939. They set up a factory in Causeway Bay (on the site where the Plaza Hotel now stands) and began operations on 7 March 1940. In his inaugural speech, Lo stated that the company's aim was to provide nutritious soymilk for the masses at the lowest possible price, which has not changed over the year. Nine bottles of the product called Vitasoy were sold after the first day. A dozen delivery boys deliver door-to-door each morning. Dr. Selwyn Clark, then director of Medical and Health Services became the strongest supporter of the operation. He ordered to all government hospitals to use the soymilk instead of cow's milk for all third-class patients. However, Lo found out that even many Chinese who were familiar with soymilk held prejudice against it as they did not believe its nutritional values. Many customers found the strong beany flavour and the slightly bitter taste hard to take. Another problem was the keeping quality of the soy milk as it was spoiled quicker than milk. Many bottles were spoiled as were sold during the summer. Lo began to work with Dr. Y. T. Chiu who did his doctoral degree at the Cornell University to promote Vitasoy to local schools. After the first year, the distribution expanded from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon peninsula.[2]

In 1941, the company was joined by Howard Hoover who run a small Seventh-day Adventist soy dairy in Canton until it fell to the Japanese. Hoover taught Lo to homogenise coconut oil into the soymilk to give it a richer flavour then helped to install the company's first Cherry Burrell homogeniser.[2] By mid-1941, the company was able to sell up to 1,000 bottles per day at six cents per bottle, which still could not cover its expenses. By December 1941, he was bankrupt with HK$30,000 sunk into the business.[1]

He and his family took refuge in the town of Lingshan, on the border between Kwantung and Kwangsi during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. They supported themselves by selling soybean milk in a makeshift building which he called The Cafe. His fifth child Irene who was born in Lingshan, was raised on soymilk as Lo's wife had no breast milk.[2]

Post-war career[edit]

Vitasoy expansion[edit]

Lo returned to Hong Kong two weeks after the Japanese surrender, and quickly got back his plant from the Custodian of Enemy Properties. He borrowed HK$50,000 from a friend and by November 1945 Vitasoy was back on the market. In 1948, Lo began to add vitamins to his soymilk and sell his products through retail outlets besides door-to-door delivery.

Lo accumulated enough capital to buy a piece of land in Aberdeen and started to build a new plant. However, before it was finished the company had acquired the franchise for Green Spot, a large California-based manufacturer of an orange flavoured soft drink. When the Aberdeen factory opened in 1950, it was used for bottling of Green Spot orangeade while Vitasoy remained in the Causeway Bay factory.[3] Lo also began to sell his products in soft drink type glass bottles. He hired an expert who helped him to the sterilisation technology in producing Vitasoy beverages in capped glass bottles in 1953 after repeated failures. The new technology enabled the beverages to be stored without refrigeration.[3] In the same year, the company began to work with UNICEF to popularise the use of soy beverages in developing countries.[2] At that time, other companies formed a lobby to get the Urban Council to ban Lo from using the word "milk" in his product name. In 1953, Lo reached a compromise which allowed him to retain the Chinese characters in his trademark if he changed the English name from Vitamilk to Vitasoy.

In 1957, the Hong Kong Soy Bean Products was granted the Pepsi-Cola bottling franchise for Hong Kong, which they kept until 1976. As the company kept expanding, Lo invested in a new six-storey factory in Kwun Tong in 1962 to double the production capacity. By the late 1960s, Vitasoy made up 25 percent of the Hong Kong soft drink market. An estimated number of 78 million bottles were sold by 1968, only second to Coca-Cola's 100 million. In 1964, Lo was invited to present on his experience in promoting Vitasoy at the International Symposium on Oilseed Protein Foods organised by UNICEF in Tokyo, which was published in the Soybean Digest. In 1975, Vitasoy became the first Hong Kong company to introduce new Tetra Pak aseptic packaging technology for beverage production. It involves ultra-heat treatment sterilisation of the product and packaging in aseptic cartons, ensures that the drink product can be kept for months without refrigeration. In 1978, the company relocated to a computerised facility of 366,000 square feet and HK$100 million investment in Tuen Mun.[3]

By the late 70s and early 80s, Vitasoy became a well-known household brand and started to expand the overseas markets in the 80s and 90s. At the time, Lo decided to retire from the post of managing director, while retaining the position of chairman of the board of directors in 1978. The company launched its business in China in 1979 when it made joint ventures with Kwan Ming Dairy Farm in Shenzhen. Vitasoy also became the first Asian soymilk to be imported to North America, as Lo's daughter Yvonne and Irene established Vitasoy USA Inc. in 1979.[2] Lo went on the become the chairman of the Vitasoy International until his retirement in 1994.

Public career[edit]

At the time Lo set up his factory in Aberdeen in the 1950s, he began to be involved in the Aberdeen Kaifong Association. His works in the association drew attentions from the Town Planning Board, which led to his appointment to the Urban Council and the Legislative Council subsequently. He had also become president of the Y's Men's Club, the Rotary Club Hong Kong Island West, and chairman of the Cheshire Home for the Disabled.[1]

He had served on numerous councils and boards, including the Air Transport Licensing Board, Civil Aviation Advisory Board, Trade Development Council, and the Consumer Council. During his service in the Consumer Council, he helped to develop product testing, information transfer, consumer advice, consumer protection and trade descriptions. He was also a member of the court and council of the University of Hong Kong. For his services, he made Justice of the Peace in 1961 and was awarded Officer and Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1971 and 1978 respectively. He was also conferred a degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Hong Kong in 1982.[1]

He was made a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in 1983.

Philanthropist works and personal life[edit]

Lo was famous for his charity works. In 1990, the Lo family donated to the University a sum for the establishment of the Dr. Lo Kwee Seong Education Foundation Awards to provide for travel and conference grants and bursaries to be awarded to postgraduate students registered for a research degree.[4] The K. S. Lo Foundation Foundation donated HK$150 million to support the Chinese University of Hong Kong and its research in biomedical sciences. Lo Kwee-Seong Integrated Biomedical Science Building was named after him.[5]

Lo was also a well-known expert and collector of Chinese ceramics since the 1950s. He had donated his entire collection of 500 pieces of Chinese teaware to the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which later became the collections of the new Museum of Tea Ware.[1] He also played a leading role in turning Hong Kong into a global market hub for Chinese paintings, calligraphy and objets d'art.[6] He was also invited to write a book, The Stonewares of Yixing which talks about the Yixing teaware.[2]

Lo had his first contact of Christianity during his education at a Methodist school in Malaya. He was baptised in a church located at the Mount of Double Happiness, Lin County, Kwantung, during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.[2]

Lo died on 5 May 1995 at Queen Mary Hospital, aged 85. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth Lo Shing. His business position was succeeded by his son Winston Lo Yau-fai.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "115th Congregation (1982) – LO Kwee Seong – Doctor of Laws honoris causa". The University of Hong Kong.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (2014). History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Japan, and in Japanese Cookbooks and Restaurants outside Japan (701 CE to 2014). Soyinfo Center. pp. 2206–7.
  3. ^ a b c d Kernan, Linda (25 May 2015). "The Vitasoy Story". The Industrial History of Hong Kong Group.
  4. ^ "Lo Kwee Seong Education Foundation Travel and Conference Grants, Dr". HKU Scholarships.
  5. ^ "Foundation Stone Laid for Lo Kwee-Seong Integrated Biomedical Sciences Building at The Chinese University of Hong Kong". The Chinese University of Hong Kong. 1 September 2010.
  6. ^ Chang, Charlotte (23 April 2015). "A Unique Legacy: Hong Kong's Chinese Antiquities Collections". Asian Art. Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Kan Yuet-keung
Chairman of Hong Kong Consumer Council
1975–1980
Succeeded by
Gallant Ho