Thursday, 18 April 2013

FairPrice has key social role: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at NTUC FairPrice 40th Anniversary Dinner

Co-op urged to stay true to mission of offering good quality at affordable prices
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice to stay true to its social mission of providing "good quality groceries and essentials at affordable prices", even as it stays commercially viable in a highly competitive market.

"FairPrice provides an important assurance to Singaporeans that they will always have somewhere to turn to for their basic needs," he said at the retailer's 40th anniversary celebrations last night.

He noted that many Singaporeans remained concerned about the cost of living, even though they are now significantly better off than when the cooperative's first store was launched in 1973.

Uncertainties that threaten to disrupt the supply of essentials from time to time further add to the importance of FairPrice's role.

"By freezing prices of essential goods at critical moments, like during the global financial crisis or the Thai floods two years ago, FairPrice gives people comfort that they will not be victims of profiteering," he said.

And while FairPrice's social mission is the reason it remains a cooperative instead of being sold or listed, this did not grant it the freedom to be in the red.

Mr Lee recalled what then Environment Minister Lim Kim San said to FairPrice's first chairman Baey Lian Peck when the cooperative was formed: "Keep prices low, fight inflation, but don't lose money doing it."

Those same words apply today, Mr Lee said.

Yet, he acknowledged that the chain has to achieve this in a much more competitive environment and with more demanding customers. He said that FairPrice no longer counted just provision shops among its rivals but also retail chains catering to a range of customer segments, from Sheng Siong and Giant at one end to Jason's and speciality grocers at the other.

To pull it off, Mr Lee said FairPrice would have to work hard at cutting costs - such as by diversifying its sources and stockpiling important products - and passing on those savings to customers.

FairPrice - originally called NTUC Welcome - opened its first store in Toa Payoh 40 years ago. It had just 30 employees then.

It has since grown into a chain of 270 outlets with 9,000 employees, serving 500,000 customers daily.

At the celebration held at Marina Bay Sands last night, FairPrice chairman Ng Ser Miang announced $40 million in gifts - to be given out in the form of rebates to FairPrice members, bonuses to employees, and also as donations to the needy and the labour movement.

He also pledged that FairPrice will continue to be a supermarket chain "with a heart".

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