39. Rolling Out Toilet Rolls

Photo: Toilet rolls. Source: iStock.com/Praneat

Aisle after aisle, pallet upon pallet were stacked with boxes of essential supplies – in particular toilet rolls.

This was the reassuring scene that FairPrice Group’s then-Group Chief Executive Officer Seah Kian Peng showed the media at its Benoi Distribution Centre, after Singaporeans went on COVID-stoked panic buying sprees in February 2020.

The sudden surge in demand had quickly stripped shelves bare of items such as rice, instant noodles and, strangely, toilet rolls. These were snapped up as soon as they were replenished, fuelling the misperception that Singapore was running out of essential supplies.

But it was the exact opposite. FairPrice was amply stocked for a crisis, with nine million rolls of toilet paper in existing inventory across its three distribution centres.

After assessing the spikes in demand, FairPrice increased the number of supermarket staff to restock shelves and even tripled the volume of essentials sent to all its supermarkets from its distribution centres. It was also a time when the strength of the OneFairmily showed, with employees from across the Group volunteering to help.

No wonder Lead Hand Logistic Assistant Yusman Ahmad declared February 2020 as the busiest period in his 26 years of working at a FairPrice distribution centre. Like him, many other staff members were on standby even on their days off to keep the shelves well-stocked.

The public soon got the message that FairPrice had sufficient stock of all essentials. But to this day, toilet paper remains an infamous icon of the pandemic – a time when people spooked by a mysterious virus flushed good sense down the drain.

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.