48. Shark’s Fin is Off the Shelves

Photo: In March 2012, FairPrice ceased the sale of shark’s fin products at all its stores. Source: iStock.com/VTT Studio

All it took was one comment to spark a sea change: “Screw the divers!”

The jibe, published on Facebook by an employee of a shark’s fin supplier to FairPrice, sparked internet outrage in November 2011. The divers in question were environmental activists, who had been protesting online against the shark’s fin trade.

The post subsequently went viral on social media. Netizens threw their weight behind the divers, calling for a boycott of not only the supplier, but also FairPrice. Faced with a mounting public relations crisis, FairPrice had to think fast. When the scandal broke, Singapore was second only to Hong Kong when it came to the shark’s fin trade. Exports in 2011 alone were worth almost $230 million. In January 2012, FairPrice released a statement reaffirming its commitment to being a socially responsible retailer. The upshot – it would no longer be selling shark’s fin products by March that year.

Shark’s fin was still popular among older customers, who placed a premium on it because of its price. But younger generations, many of whom had been observed by supermarket staff discouraging their parents from buying shark’s fin, were turning the tide.

It marked the rise of the ethical consumer, who was not just interested in price or taste, but also how a product was sourced. While it began with an internet pile-on, it ended with a step forward, both for the supermarket and animal rights.

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.