5. The Housebrand Strategy

Photo: Launched in 1985 when recession hit, FairPrice’s housebrand has more than 2,000 products today. Source: FairPrice Group

The year was 1985, and recession had hit Singapore. As retrenchment rates rose and disposable incomes shrank, FairPrice launched its housebrand to moderate the cost of living.

The concept was not new. NTUC members had been helping to pack rice into unbranded bags to sell at a lower price to combat profiteering since the 1970s. But the supermarket chain was now putting its own brand on essential products, from oil to sugar.

FairPrice’s first General Manager Lim Ho Seng was confident. “Consumers are smart people,” he told The Straits Times in a 1986 interview. “They want value for money and if they find that a product is good, they will buy it regardless of the name on the wrapper.”

He was right. As housebrand products were up to 10 per cent cheaper than branded alternatives, consumers were quick to change allegiance. As of 2023, there are more than 2,000 housebrand products, including more posh offerings such as rolled oats and edamame beans.

FairPrice has also launched private labels – fresh vegetable brand Pasar, health and wellness brand Origins and sausage brand Delicato. Together, the housebrand and private labels are known as Own Brands with its own business unit, the Own Brands & Food Solutions (OBFS) division, which made close to $500 million in revenue in 2022.

“If you benchmark OBFS against fast-moving consumer goods businesses based in Singapore, we are among the top five,” said Ms Grace Chua, OBFS Chief Executive Officer. “It affirms that we are on the right track.” Next target for Own Brands: hit $1 billion in revenue and become Singapore’s No. 1 consumer goods company.

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.