Rise in demand for online grocery deliveries as shoppers avoid wet markets amid Covid-19 surge

Major players like RedMart and FairPrice (above) have seen increased online orders since tighter restrictions kicked in.
Major players like RedMart and FairPrice (above) have seen increased online orders since tighter restrictions kicked in.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - With consumers hit by the double whammy of the closure of Jurong Fishery Port and the latest tightened restrictions, online grocers have seen a spike in demand for food items and delivery slots.

Major players like RedMart, FairPrice and Dairy Farm Group, which operates supermarket chains Giant and Cold Storage, have seen increased orders since restrictions kicked in under phase two (heightened alert) last Thursday ( July 22).

Jurong Fishery Port, which handles about 30 per cent of the Singapore's seafood imports, including those that arrive by land and air, is closed till July 31, following the emergence of a Covid-19 cluster there.

As at Sunday, 792 cases have been linked to the fishery port cluster, the largest active one in Singapore. The trickle-down effect of this cluster has seen 44 markets and food centres linked to it, resulting in more shoppers opting to buy groceries online instead.

Last week, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu advised shoppers to widen their choices and sources of seafood in order to ease the effects of short-term disruptions on the Republic's chilled seafood supply.

Mr Richard Ruddy, chief retail officer and head of grocery at Lazada Singapore, which owns e-grocer RedMart, said: "We've been seeing an increase in demand over the last week, due in part to two events - the recent closure of Jurong Fishery Port - which has led to an increase in orders for fresh and frozen seafood and, in fact, in proteins overall - and the return to phase two (heightened alert)."

A spokesman for Dairy Farm said it has seen demand for its online services double, with most of its delivery slots filled as soon as the fishery port cluster and tightened Covid-19 restrictions were announced.

FairPrice saw online orders increase by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent the day after phase two (heightened alert) was announced. A spokesman said demand "has since normalised", adding that there is no surge in demand for any particular products in online orders.

But at its physical stores in the past week, the major supermarket retailer has seen a 5 per cent to 20 per cent increase in overall demand for frozen food items such as processed chicken, chicken parts, scallops, prawns and fish fillets.

Over the weekend, long queues were seen at supermarkets islandwide as shoppers avoided the wet markets.

All online grocers The Straits Times spoke to have assured customers that there are enough stocks.

"We are ramping up our supplies in anticipation of elevated demand," said a FairPrice spokesman.



Shoppers at a FairPrice outlet in Jurong East on July 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAN LIANG

"We urge all customers to practise responsible shopping and buy only what they need, as there is sufficient stock for everyone," said RedMart's Mr Ruddy.

Lessons from previous lockdowns have helped retailers plan better for changes in restrictions and customer demand.

Dairy Farm noted that demand usually "goes back to normal in the two to three weeks after restrictions are eased".

It has also built the capacity to handle the higher load quicker, by activating recruitment and logistics partners pre-emptively.

"Receiving orders in full is important for our customers, so we work closely with our supply chain team on availability. We also understand it takes time for our customers to adjust to the easing of restrictions, so we plan for longer and accordingly," said its spokesman.

Concurrently, food delivery services such as GrabFood, Foodpanda and Deliveroo have also seen a rise in demand, as dining in is banned again under the tightened restrictions.

Similar to major online grocers, food delivery services and merchants are now better prepared when restrictions are tightened.

A spokesman for Grab said: "In the past year, we have observed that many of our merchant partners have successfully incorporated food delivery into their day-to-day operations and this has helped them manage online demand better as a whole." 

To cope with the anticipated increase in orders, Foodpanda has opened more rider slots per shift. "This will help to increase the availability of riders for fulfilling delivery orders. We will also be increasing our rider recruitment efforts to ensure we have sufficient riders to cope with the demand," said a spokesman.

"Favourites such as prata, fried chicken and burgers continue to top the list of most-ordered items on the platform," added the spokesman, who likened the rise in demand in food orders to the earlier phase two (heightened alert) from mid-May to mid-June.

Others like Deliveroo and some restaurants have noticed that customers' dining preferences have evolved, with more going for healthier choices.

"Since the start of Covid-19, we've seen an increase in orders for our 'healthy' and 'healthy options' categories as more consumers try to eat consciously while staying at home... popular healthy dishes include salads, poke bowls and wraps," said Deliveroo.

Ms Stella Wang, founder of QuantFood group, which runs four eateries including Chinese-inspired rice bowl eatery Chengdu Bowl, has also noticed that customers have become more health-conscious since last year.

Ms Yvette Huang, who handles marketing at QuantFood, said: "There's a shift towards a health-conscious diet, especially among millennials."

The group launched Chengdu Bowl during last year's circuit breaker. Then in June this year, during Singapore's first phase two (heightened alert) period, it launched a virtual restaurant, Ban Deng Noodle, which does not have a physical store.

"Customers are now more familiar with and receptive towards food delivery, so the whole market environment has been suitable for us to develop a new virtual restaurant," said Ms Huang. "But no matter what we do, we still have to embrace the new normal and there will always be demand for food delivery."

Safe management measures for delivery personnel

1. Declare temperature and health

Delivery personnel must take their temperature and submit health declarations daily.

A Grab spokesman said: "All delivery partners are advised to take their temperature before they start their day, and again during the course of their shift."

2. Wear masks and practise good personal hygiene

A FairPrice spokesman said staff must wear personal protective equipment like masks and face shields.

Foodpanda said it reminds its riders to wash and sanitise their hands regularly.

Grab said delivery personnel must wear masks when they deliver food. They must also use hand sanitiser before picking up orders, cannot open the food containers or touch the food after collection, and must disinfect their delivery bags regularly.

3. Observe safe distancing

Grab said delivery personnel must be at least 1m apart from others while waiting in queues for orders to be ready.

4. Opt for contactless delivery

In contactless deliveries, delivery personnel leave orders at designated locations for customers to pick up.

Dairy Farm said contactless delivery remains the norm, while Grab and Foodpanda said it is the default option.

The Grab spokesman said: "Consumers and delivery partners are highly encouraged to keep to this option."

5. Avoid congregating and socialising

Grab said it regularly reminds its delivery personnel to refrain from congregating and socialising with one another, while Foodpanda said its riders are regularly reminded to avoid congregating in public areas.

6. Other measures

Dairy Farm said it will implement swab tests for all its team members to ensure the safety of its staff and customers.

The Grab spokesman said all delivery personnel are advised to practise good hygiene and not work if they have any respiratory symptoms, or are generally feeling unwell. "They should also seek medical attention immediately."