SINGAPORE - Ever since the first NTUC supermarket was launched in Toa Payoh in 1973, the NTUC FairPrice chain of supermarkets has played an important role in nation building, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Sept 16).
Mr Lee recounted how the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had said at the supermarket's opening in 1973: "You will get more value for your money buying here. Further, you should also get a return of 5-10 per cent back every year on your purchase. And the more shares you buy into the co-op (cooperative), the more you will get back."
Some 42 years later - and on the late Mr Lee's birthday - PM Lee paid tribute to the contributions of NTUC FairPrice to Singapore at the opening of FairPrice Hub in Joo Koon, a distribution centre that is highly automated, using robots and automated vehicles for warehousing operations.
The mission of NTUC FairPrice is to help keep the cost of living low, to give Singaporeans assurance that they can always obtain essential goods at retail outlets at a fair price, and to give Singaporeans a stake in its enterprise, he noted.
Moreover, he added that FairPrice does this without special treatment from the Government, competing with other players in the free market.
So it is remarkable that NTUC FairPrice has become a household name in Singapore, while fulfilling its mission as a social enterprise, said PM Lee.
Not only is it the largest supermarket chain in Singapore with almost 300 outlets and stores including convenience stores, but it also continues to give Singaporeans a fair deal and keep prices affordable, he said.
It does so through 'Everyday Low Price' items for a basket of 1,000 items or its own house brands, discounts to pioneers to honour their contributions to the country, and rebates and dividends to more than 700,000 members, amounting to more than $460 million for the past 10 years.
NTUC FairPrice does so without compromising its service, while keeping up with the changing and wide-ranging needs of consumers, added PM Lee.
"So if you want wine, you can get wine. If you want abalone, you can get abalone. But if you need rice, essentials, staples, there are many different kinds from housebrands which are very good to premium Japanese rice if you're cooking sushi," he said.
This makes NTUC FairPrice a good example of Singapore's social enterprise model, he said, adding it is a successful business with an important social mission, sharing the benefits of progress widely while able to compete with global players in a free market.
He also said: "The union movement has close symbiotic relationship with the PAP government, and this (event) is a small indication that this very much continues today."
Mr Lee added that he was "especially delighted" that this was his first formal function after the Sept 11 general election.
FairPrice will also pledge $50 million to the FairPrice Foundation over the next five years to help the needy and promote community bonding, announced FairPrice chairman Bobby Chin.