Competition watchdog calls for public feedback on proposed sale of Kopitiam to NTUC Enterprise

The acquisition of Kopitiam and its subsidiaries, which spans 80 outlets comprising 56 foodcourts, 21 coffee shops and three hawker centres, as well as two central kitchens, was announced on Sept 21, 2018. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is looking into whether the impending sale of food centre operator Kopitiam to NTUC Enterprise would infringe competition rules, and inviting feedback from the public.

The move comes after NTUC Enterprise notified the Commission on Friday (Sept 28) of the proposed acquisition, which would bring Kopitiam, one of the largest players in the food centre industry, under its umbrella.

The acquisition of Kopitiam Investment and its subsidiaries, which spans 80 outlets comprising 56 foodcourts, 21 coffee shops and three hawker centres, as well as two central kitchens, was announced on Sept 21.

The value of the transaction - which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, subject to regulatory approvals - has not been disclosed.

NTUC Enterprise is the holding entity and single largest shareholder of NTUC Social Enterprises, which includes NTUC Foodfare. NTUC Foodfare manages 14 foodcourts, 10 coffee shops and nine hawker centres.

The firms said that NTUC Foodfare and Kopitiam will continue to operate separately, while making quality cooked food affordable and accessible to all.

The CCCS said in a statement on Friday that it is now assessing whether the proposed transaction would infringe the Competition Act, which prohibits mergers that have resulted, or may be expected to result, in a substantial lessening of competition within any market in Singapore. It is not known how much market share the two firms have.

In its notification, NTUC Enterprise made the case that it overlaps with Kopitiam in two markets: The sale of cooked food to individual consumers in quick-service eateries, and the rental of stalls to food vendors located within coffee shops, foodcourts and hawker centres.

It argued that the proposed acquisition would not give rise to anti-competitive consequences in either market, given the numerous cooked food vendors in quick-service eateries as well and strong competition from other operators.

Customers in both markets would have little issue switching to competitors, as individual consumers often have their pick of foodcourts, hawker centres and coffee shops within walking distance, while food vendors are "generally indifferent to stall location so long as the rental terms are competitive and there is sufficient consumer traffic", NTUC Enterprise said.

The proposed acquisition would allow NTUC Enterprise, through Foodfare and Kopitiam, to create a more efficient business through economies of scale, it said.

Its larger scale would help it to optimise its food offerings across outlets, which would save costs by potentially winning bids for new sites at lower rates thanks to a better value proposition.

The cost savings could be used to offer tenants better rental terms, as well as to invest in new technologies and in-store practices that will benefit both vendors as well as consumers, NTUC Enterprise said.

Rent and food prices were among the top concerns of Kopitiam's stall owners and patrons interviewed by The Straits Times after the announcement of the acquisition last week.

Members of the public can provide feedback on the matter between Oct 1 and Oct 12 through the CCCS website.

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