Wednesday, May 24, 2017

110. Brand Stories: COSMOS (SARSI) of Cosmos Bottling Corp.

COSMOS 1963 print ad. At its peak, it was the no. 1 sarsaparilla soda in the market.

One of the more popular alternative soda brands in the Philippines after the war was a product of the Manila Aerated Water Factory, located on Misericordia St., Manila. It was founded way back in 1918 by Wong Ning, a Guangdong native who migrated to the Philippines. He would be arrested and jailed by the Japanese during World War II for his association with the Kuomintang government, where he would tragically die in prison.

VERY EARLY COSMOS AD. 1955. Only 5 centavos per bottle!

The eldest of his 7 children—Henry Gao-Hong Wong—rebuilt the business post-war and renamed it in 1945 as COSMOS Bottling Corporation.


Its main product was a flavored beverage called COSMOS Sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla—similar to root beer—is made from the roots of the sarsaparilla vine, and is considered as a tonic drink with medicinal value. The flavor is not alien to Filipinos, as root beer was introduced by Americans in their regime; Royal, and early soda brand, carried the same flavor.

'SARSI' IS COSMOS. This 1968 ad calls the sarsaparilla drink--Sarsi!

Print advertising was begun in the mid 1950s. Soon, COSMOS found its way to Filipino homes and became quickly a favorite, holding its own against leaders Pepsi and Coca-Cola. The company, would prosper under the management of  the Philippine-educated Henry, who was armed with a doctoral degree in Economics from the University of Santo Tomas. COSMOS Bottling Corp,,under his helm, became the second largest manufacturer of soft drinks in the Philippines.

SARSI AD, Featuring the 1968 Miss Asia, Macy Shih,  and her court, ca. 1969

This paved the way for the Wong family to put up the COSMOS Aerated Water in Hong Kong in 1947, with its own plant on Castle Peak Road.  COSMOS, too, became a favorite brand, and soon, they expanded their plant and equipped it with state-of-the-art bottling machines that could produce 3,000 bottled Cosmos per hour, in Sarsaparilla, Orange, Cream Soda, Lime, Lemon, Mulberry, Grape and Pineapple flavors. The Hong Kong operation was taken care of by younger brother Hubert and Freddy Wong. After 1966, the COSMOS Hong Kong business seemed to have faltered, although its corporate registration is still active today.

SARSI AD. With Miss Asia 1969, Wong Kyung Suh of Korea as endorser,

THE SARSI SOCIETY, With Miss Asia '69 and her court. ca. 1970.

The sarsaparilla flavor of COSMOS was such in demand by the late 1960s, and consumers by then had started calling it “Sarsi”—and so the name stuck, even though the bottles still bannered the COSMOS name up front. COSMOS in orange flavor was relaunched in the early 70s as SUNTA.

CHRISTMAS AD, With the 1969 Miss Asia. ca. 1969

LET'S SARSI TOGETHER! With India's Zeenat Amman, Miss Asia '70.

By a cruel twist of fate, the brilliant Henry--only 53-- died of a stroke caused  by his brain tumor in 1970. Several family members were unprepared to fill in the leadership vacuum left by the patriarch, as there was no training for succession.

THE SARSI SOCIETY, With Carolyn Masibay, Mutya ng Pilipinas 1971.

Still, advertising and promotions continued through the 1970s, with colored ads featuring Miss Asia and Mutya winners (COSMOS was into events marketing; it was a major sponsor of Miss Asia and  Mutya ng Pilipinas). One of its most memorable commercials was the “SARSI with Egg” TVC presented by imported talent Danny Vanni, who endorsed an unconventional usage for drinking Sarsi—with a raw egg stirred in, yolks and all. Such a combination supposedly ensured heightened energy.


The business floundered until, in RFM Corporation acquired it from the Wong Family in 1989, thus ending the Wong family’s hold on COSMOS which they have had for 7 decades. The products were briefly revitalized by a new “Bagong Tunog” (all-Philippine music) campaign conceptualized by Basic Advertising.


In 2001, Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils. (under the combined control of San Miguel and Coca-Cola Company) would acquire 83% of COSMOS Bottling from RFM, to give it ownership of 90% market share of the Philippine soft drink market in the Philippines. It was delisted from the Philippine Stock Exchange in 2013.

PSST. PASS IT ON! Sarsi Print Ad, 1975.

At its peak, COSMOS Bottling Corp., were the makers of Sarsi (Sarsaparilla), Sunta (Cosmos Orange Flavor), Sarsi Light,  Pop Cola, Cheers Lemon and Orange, Jaz Cola and Sparkle.

COSMOS PRODUCTS RELAUNCH. by Basic/FCB Advertising. 1989.

Cosmos Aerated Water – in Hong Kong from 1947

“The Fall of the Once Mighty Cosmos Soft drink Company”.

1 comment:

  1. why did Coke let Pop Cola disappear? (11% of sparkling volumes in 2011).