18. Overcoming Crises: A Lighthouse Amid the Storms

Photo: A newspaper article in NTUC News during the SARS outbreak, assuring the public that FairPrice had sufficient stocks of vegetables. Source: NTUC

Wave upon wave of crises have hit Singapore through the decades, many of them springing from beyond these shores – from oil shocks and financial meltdowns to wars and pandemics. Through it all, FairPrice has striven to be a bulwark of stability amid uncertain times. In fact, it was birthed amid the turmoil of the 1973 global oil crisis, with a mandate to moderate prices and keep inflation and profiteering under control.

Price fluctuations have continued through the decades as international events send shockwaves around the world. When the first Iraqi shot was fired in Kuwait in January 1991, it triggered panic buying in FairPrice stores as families rushed to hoard food. When shelves were swept empty, FairPrice staff worked late into the night to replenish stocks. This quick and dedicated response, seen time and again, allayed public fears.

Health emergencies such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 have also caused anxiety. When the SARS-stricken Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market was closed for over two weeks, FairPrice brought in more vegetables to keep a lid on prices.

More challenges were to come. During the 2008 global financial crisis, FairPrice introduced a housebrand discount to tide Singaporeans over it. Amid a worldwide rice supply shortage that same year, it dropped prices as the cost of rice more than doubled overseas. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 proved especially painful. Among other measures, the chain froze prices for 100 essential housebrand items to cushion the crisis’ economic impact.

Like a lighthouse, FairPrice will always serve as a beacon of hope for Singaporeans amid dark, turbulent times.

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.