10. From the Heartlands to Huge Malls

Photo: In 1996, FairPrice opened Tampines Mall in a joint venture with DBS Land – the predecessor of Capitaland – where it launched the first of its new-generation stores. Source: Samuel He

The growth spurt of Singapore’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s heralded a golden age of property development with shopping malls springing up all over the city. It was a glorious time where iconic names like Ngee Ann City and Raffles City were the new kids on the block.

Watching from its home turf of the heartlands, FairPrice felt a tinge of FOMO (fear of missing out). It wanted in, beginning a campaign to have its stores within the sprawling modern complexes. There was only one problem: no one wanted them. It was an image issue, noted former Group Chief Executive Officer Tan Kian Chew. “We came from a labour union background. In the earlier days, we were a small supermarket operator catering mainly to the lower-income groups.”

Unable to convince the property developers otherwise, the retailer decided to enter the world of property development. In 1996, it opened Tampines Mall in a joint venture with DBS Land – the predecessor of CapitaLand. It was there where FairPrice launched the first of its new-generation stores – a bigger, bolder and better format that boasted fresh fish, fruits and vegetables. At 35,000 sq ft, it was more than triple the size of its first outlet in Toa Payoh.

Its “fresh” formula was a resounding success, with Mr Tan describing it as a “breakthrough.” “Fresh produce is the one that gave us the sales and turnovers,” he said. “From now on, every store we open will be modelled on this,” announced then-Chairman Chandra Das. “All the existing ones will be upgraded to this level.”

This combination of property investment and new-generation stores has helped it establish a foothold in shopping malls, with FairPrice outlets a magnet for crowds. From The Centrepoint to The Seletar Mall, the supermarket has become synonymous with shopping malls today.

Since its humble beginnings in a corner of Toa Payoh, NTUC FairPrice has become the quintessential Singaporean supermarket. The leap from a single store to a grocery giant is a tale of retail reinvention – a half-century journey that saw the cooperative confront crises and challenges, revamps and even robbers.

As it expanded and evolved, FairPrice never wavered from its core mission: to moderate the cost of living for consumers. It Takes a Great Deal - A Catalogue of FairPrice Group Stories encapsulates the birth of the consumer cooperative in 1973 and its transformation into a $4 billion food enterprise that is now called FairPrice Group.

Through 50 remarkable stories, we celebrate the people, products and places that mark significant milestones for the food retailer over the last five decades, charting its growth and successes in the past, present and into the future.