2. Welcome to the First NTUC Supermarket
It was a warm evening on July 22, 1973. A crowd of 1,500 was gathered in a carpark in Toa Payoh, among them then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was there to open Singapore’s first cooperative supermarket by the labour movement – NTUC Welcome.
Walking along the aisle on the day of the launch, Mr Lee saw a small bottle of TST brandy and reached out to grab it, stuffing it into his pocket. Turning to a young official, he quipped: “There goes your profit for the day.”
His message was not just a caution against theft, but also to remind Welcome to work harder to stay afloat. This modern mart was launched amid rather turbulent times, with the cost of living escalating as inflation hit a record high of over 22 per cent. Prices of essential goods hit the roof – with rice prices increasing about 42 per cent.
Riding to the rescue was the labour movement (NTUC), whose mission with the Welcome store was to moderate prices, prevent profiteering and ease the impact of inflation. The first store was in Toa Payoh, deemed a suitable location as it was a large new town with 130,000 people. Manned by a crew of 30, its shelves were stocked with consumer goods, from cooking oil to detergent – and, crucially, large quantities of reasonably priced essential items like rice and sugar.
This cooperative more than thrived. From a turnover of $9 million in its first year, it achieved over $4 billion 50 years later under FairPrice Group. It now has over 500 supermarkets, convenience stores and cooked food locations across Singapore – and the first branch at Toa Payoh Lorong 4 is still in operation.
FairPrice survived recessions, robbers and revamps – to become Singapore’s staple in the food scene.
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.
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.