Singapore grocery concierge service Honestbee buzzes towards 'global store' concept

Honestbee launched in Tokyo on Thursday, July 20, with the city being its eighth Asian market. The company is setting its sights on a "global store" that is targeted for launch by the first quarter of next year.

TOKYO - By early next year, Singapore shoppers may get fresh seafood from the famous Tsukiji market or fruits from the best Hokkaido farms delivered to their doorstep via home-grown online concierge service Honestbee.

This was the vision spelt out by chief executive officer Joel Sng on Thursday (July 20) as the start-up's next area of growth, with the firm setting sights beyond its current hyper-local model to build a global marketplace.

He was speaking at Honestbee's launch in Tokyo on Thursday, which is the firm's eighth Asian market.

This came ahead of the firm's second anniversary next week in what Mr Sng described as a "crazy wild ride so far" for a company that managed to win Silicon Valley funding in its early days.

After the global store is launched, shoppers will gain cross-border access to more than 120,000 products from stores within Honestbee's network across Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and, now, Tokyo, Mr Sng said.

"We are going to open a global store that allows any customer across all the regions we operate in to buy from the best producers in Hokkaido and the freshest seafood in Japan, and get that delivered to their homes, and vice versa."

Honestbee does not hold its own inventory of goods, but employs a team of mainly freelance shoppers - or "bees" - who will buy the items from partner stores upon order.

There are now 20 companies in Honestbee's network in Tokyo, including five supermarkets, three fresh food stores based at Tsukiji market, and a store specialising in organic farm-to-table produce.

Also in its network are specialty shops, with items ranging from coffee beans and tea leaves to Italian wines and German pastries.

Singaporean barbecued pork chain Bee Cheng Hiang, which opened in Tokyo last October, is also part of the network.

Honestbee now delivers to areas in central Tokyo, including the busy Shibuya, Shinjuku, Minato and Chiyoda wards. Country manager Vivek Sampath said the firm aims to double its footprint in Tokyo by the end of the year.

Japan has enormous potential for an e-grocer concierge like Honestbee, Mr Sng said, as he noted that online grocers in Japan accounted for only 2 per cent, or US$5.5 billion (S$7.5 billion), of the retail grocery market in 2015.

The Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) supported Honestbee's foray into Tokyo. Mr Tomohiro Takashima, director-general of Jetro's Invest Japan department, said Honestbee's birth in Singapore was not surprising, given the nation's status as an advanced logistics hub.

He added that he believes Honestbee's "flexible workforce" model will be the way forward for Japan, given its tight labour market.

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