38. Mask Madness

Photo: Masks. Source: iStock.com/Ja’Crispy

It was like a scene straight out of an apocalyptic movie.

When Singapore raised its alert level over the coronavirus outbreak in February 2020, Singaporeans began thronging supermarkets, stripping shelves bare of toilet paper, hand sanitisers and non-perishable food items.

Masks, in particular, quickly sold out as frantic hordes spooked by rumours of a supply crunch snapped them up as their best defence against an invisible enemy – a deadly and mysterious virus.

Amid fears of a shortage, FairPrice quickly took steps to bolster supply by ordering 10 million masks from its supplier in China. These were produced specifically for FairPrice, from a factory in Hunan – one of the few approved by the Chinese government and which adhered to Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority’s regulations.

At the time, only a few Chinese factories were authorised to export masks, so this connection was invaluable. Logistics was also critical to get the masks here on time. On April 24, 2020, a special charter flight from Hunan delivered 7.4 million masks, weighing an estimated 60 tonnes, while the remaining 2.6 million masks were transported via sea.

FairPrice’s swift decision and reliable supply network enabled Singapore to maintain its mask stockpile and kept everyone as safe as possible before vaccines were made available.

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.