Launching its new Joo Koon headquarters, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that the NTUC FairPrice chain of supermarkets is a role model for social enterprises in Singapore.
Recounting how founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched the first NTUC supermarket in Toa Payoh in 1973, PM Lee said yesterday that the chain has fulfilled its early promise of giving Singaporeans value for their grocery money.
And it has done so in a competitive free market without any special support from the Government, he said.
"NTUC FairPrice is a good example of our social enterprise model: a successful business with a social conscience and a social mission, sharing the benefits of success and progress widely," he said at the new headquarters, known as FairPrice Hub.
NTUC FairPrice is the largest supermarket chain here, with almost 300 outlets and stores.
Besides the special low prices it maintains to keep a basket of 1,000 essential household items affordable for buyers, it also gives discounts to pioneers, and rebates and dividends to its more than 700,000 members.
This has amounted to more than $460 million over the past 10 years.
FairPrice chairman Bobby Chin said yesterday that its mission throughout its 42 years has always been "to ensure that working families have access to affordable daily essentials".
He added that FairPrice will be donating $50 million to the FairPrice Foundation over the next five years to help the needy and promote community bonding.
Yesterday, PM Lee also praised FairPrice's performance in two other areas: prioritising worker training and automating operations to boost productivity.
There is a training institute located in the new headquarters, and it is equipped with a first-of-its-kind automated distribution centre that has double the productivity of manual ones.
The warehouse uses new software to automatically store and transport goods by controlling robots and autonomous vehicles mounted on a multistorey monorail system.
With this system, FairPrice can move up to 120,000 cartons of products a day, double the productivity of a conventional distribution centre where workers manually move cartons.
PM Lee said the hub is a "state-of- the art building, which reflects the forward-planning of NTUC FairPrice as an organisation".
The Prime Minister added that he was "especially delighted" that yesterday's event was his first formal function after the Sept 11 General Election.
"The union movement has had a very close, symbiotic relationship with the PAP Government, and this is a small token and small indication that this continues very much to be the case," said PM Lee.