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7 Prominent Chinese Businesses In The Philippines & The History Behind Them

Chinese businesses in the Philippines

Chinoys are known to be good at handling money and having successful business ventures. Binondo Chinatown is a testament to this, bustling with long-enduring enterprises. However, Chinoys are succeeding in the business space even on a much larger scale.

To refresh your memory, here’s a list of Chinese businesses in the Philippines, including brands you may not know are proudly Chinoy.

1. SM Supermalls – biggest mall chain in the Philippines

Chinese-owned businesses in the Philippines - SM Supermalls
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SM Supermalls traces its roots back to a humble shoe store in Quiapo in 1948. Then, in 1958, its founder Henry Sy Sr. opened Shoemart in Carriedo, from which the name “SM” originated. Later on, it became a department store but it was not until 1985 that Sy Sr. opened his first supermall, SM North EDSA.

Today, SM boasts 85 malls across the Philippines. They’ve also expanded in China with 8 malls, the first one being in Xiamen, Fujian, where Sy Sr. traces his Chinese roots.

The biggest mall chain in the country is managed SM Prime Holdings which is currently headed by Henry Sy Jr. Besides SM, they also owns Waltermart, Alfamart, and the residential developer SMDC.

As of 2023, the Sys holds the top spot on Forbes’ Philippines’ 50 Richest, with a net worth of P14.4 billion.

2. Jollibee – globally known Philippine fast-food chain

Chinese-owned businesses in the Philippines - Jollibee
Image credit: Jollibee via Facebook

The beloved Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee began its journey as an ice cream shop in 1975, with its initial branches located in Cubao and Quiapo.

Due to popular demand, founder Tony Tan Caktiong added sandwiches and hot meals to the menu. By 1978, Jollibee had transformed into the fast-food restaurant we know today.

Since then, the fast-food chain began taking over the world. Now, it has 1,150 branches nationwide and over 270 globally, spanning Asia, Europe, and the US. Jollibee Foods Corporation has also acquired its local fast-food competitors, including Chowking, Greenwich, Red Ribbon, and Mang Inasal.

Currently, the Tan Caktiong family is ranked 5th richest people in the Philippines.

3. Puregold – supermarket chain owned by a Chinoy husband and wife

Chinese-owned businesses in the Philippines - Puregold
Image credit: Judgefloro via Wikimedia Commons

ICYDK, the supermarket chain Puregold was founded by Chinoy couple Lucio Co and his wife Susan Co. This Chinese business is among the newest players in this list, founded on 8th September 1998.

From its first branch in Mandaluyong in 1998, the chain has grown to over 500 stores nationwide. In 2012, Puregold even acquired the membership-only retail warehouse chain S&R.

Today, the Co couple ranks as the 12th wealthiest individuals in the country. In addition to Puregold and S&R, they also own businesses in liquor distribution, commercial real estate, and various other ventures.

4. Mercury Drug – biggest drugstore chain in the country

Chinese-owned businesses in the Philippines - Mercury Drug
Image credit: Judgefloro via Wikimedia Commons

Mercury Drug was founded at the end of World War II by Chinese-Filipino businessman Mariano Que who began by selling anti-infective pills with a push cart.

It stands as one of the oldest drugstores in the country, second only to Southstar Drug, which was also established by Chinese Filipino Tomas Dy-Makao and is presently owned by the Gokongweis.

On 1st March 1845, Que opened the first Mercury Drug in  Sta Cruz, Manila. Today, the drugstore chain has over 1,000 branches nationwide. Mercury Drug Group of Companies also owns the local fast-food chain Tropical Hut.

Following Que’s passing in 2017, Mercury Drug is now overseen by his daughter, Vivian Que Azcona. Que Azcona and her siblings rank as the 16th richest people in the Philippines.

5. Robinsons – mall and supermarket chain

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Robinsons began as a small department store in Manila in 1980. It wasn’t until a decade later, in 1990, that founder John Gokongwei opened its inaugural mall, Robinsons Galleria in Quezon City.

Today, the brand boasts a chain of 59 malls and nearly 300 supermarkets nationwide. It also has plans to expand its presence in China, particularly in Shanghai, Xiamen, Chengdu, and Taicang.

In March 2023, John Gokongwei, Jr.’s son, Lance Gokongwei, took over as president of the JG Summit Holdings. Under the Gokongweis’ conglomerate are other notable companies such as Universal Robina, Cebu Pacific, Robinsons Bank, and GoTyme. It’s no wonder that the Gokongweis are the 7th richest people in the country.

6. The French Baker – the first French bakery-cafe in the Philippines

The French Baker
Image credit: The French Baker Philippines via Facebook

The Philippines’ first-ever French bakery-cafe wasn’t founded by a French individual but by Chinese Filipino Johnlu Koa.

At 22, Koa started his baking business in a small apartment unit, supplying bread products to SM Supermarket, all while working as an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines. In 1989, he opened the first The French Baker outlet in SM City North EDSA.

Today, The French Baker has 63 outlets nationwide. Koa also owns the Philippine franchise of the Taiwan-based bubble tea chain, Chatime.

7. Philippine Airlines – the Philippines’ flagbearer airline

Chinese-owned businesses in the Philippines - Philippine Airlines
Image credit: Kylle Pangan via Unsplash

Philippine Airlines, the country’s flagbearer, was established in 1941 by Chinese-born Filipino Lucio Tan Sr.

The airline’s inaugural flight took off from Manila to Baguio in 1941. Although the route was initially discontinued, it was reinstated decades later on December 16, 2022.

Today, Philippine Airlines operates with a fleet of 76 aircraft, bringing Filipinos to 43 international and 31 domestic destinations. Tan’s LT Group also owns several other prominent companies, including Tanduay Distillers, Fortune Tobacco Corporation, and Philippine National Bank.

Tan, who previously held the title of the richest man in the Philippines, currently occupies the tenth spot as of 2023.

Prominent Chinese businesses

There are many more Chinesebusinesses in the Philippines across a wide range of industries. But the ones above are a good starting point if you wish to impress your friends with your knowledge.

To know more, find out about the biggest Philippine brands and their history. Or take a trip down memory lane by revisiting these nostalgic Filipino children’s shows.

Cover image adapted from: The French Baker Philippines via Facebook, Troy Mortier via Unsplash, Jollibee via Facebook