4. From Welcome to FairPrice

Photo: Minister for Communications and Labour and Secretary-General-Designate of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Ong Teng Cheong (left) exiting NTUC FairPrice at blocks 63-66, Yung Kuang Road in Jurong after his tour of the supermarket during its inauguration in 1983. Source: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Ten years after NTUC Welcome was launched, it underwent a major revamp – after a merger with fellow union supermarket cooperatives to reap better economies of scale. Welcome had 15 stores across Singapore, and the other supermarket chains under the Singapore Employees Cooperative (SEC) had 19 outlets. The SEC ran two grocery operations – one set up by Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (SILO) and the other by Pioneer Industries Employees’ Union (PIEU). Both started a year after Welcome’s debut, led by Mr Phey Yew Kok, NTUC President and People’s Action Party Member of Parliament.

But Mr Phey fled Singapore on December 31, 1979, after being charged with misappropriating union funds. Mr Lim Yong Wah, a senior executive at the Development Bank of Singapore (now DBS Bank), was asked to fill the void as Chairman of SILO, PIEU and subsequently, SEC. The next step was to merge SEC with Welcome for a greater scale that would offer better prices, observed then-NTUC Secretary-General Lim Chee Onn. It was left to Mr Lim Yong Wah, who was also Chairman of Welcome, to be the matchmaker.

The marriage produced NTUC FairPrice Co-operative Limited, with 33 supermarkets that started operations on May 1, 1983. FairPrice’s first General Manager Lim Ho Seng recalled that one of the names floated was “Thrift,” a signal of its mission to be affordable. But FairPrice was chosen instead, a name inspired by Welcome’s former Chairman Baey Lian Peck.

Mr Baey had seen the name on a shop during a trip to Bangladesh, and thought it aptly summed up what the Singapore supermarket cooperative stood for. It was also the name given to the network of almost 1,000 neighbourhood shops that sold essential products by Welcome.

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.