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Business

Singaporeans turn to Web for fresh food

Major online retailer RedMart has seen a dramatic increase in fresh food sales.

SINGAPORE -- Online retailers offering fresh food are enjoying brisk sales growth in Singapore. Their services meet the needs of the city-state's many affluent but busy people.

      RedMart, a leading Singaporean online retailer, plans to increase the range of fresh food on sale at its virtual supermarket from roughly 400 today to more than 2,000 by June. The e-commerce company has set its sights on raising the proportion of fresh food in its overall sales to 50-60%, from roughly 10% today. It plans to begin fresh food deliveries outside Singapore shortly.

      Laundry detergents and other daily goods, as well as rice, beverages and other non-perishable foods, have long been RedMart staples. Convinced that there is demand to shop for fresh food online, the company fitted warehouses and delivery trucks with refrigeration equipment and began offering it in September.

RedMart's virtual store handles roughly 7,000 items, including about 400 kinds of fresh food.

     "Sales have been more than doubling every month," according to a company official. Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s make up the bulk of fresh food shoppers.

Paying attention

Other companies are following RedMart's lead. GoFresh is an online fresh food store that handles roughly 350 items, including meat, vegetables and fish. The site saw sales in November double from the time of its June launch. About 30% of GoFresh's customers are repeaters. Many of these people do all their daily shopping online, according to the company.

     Major supermarket chains are also embracing online food sales.

     After opening an online store earlier this year, Sheng Siong today sells around 5,000 products over the Internet. Fresh food generates about 15% of sales.

     NTUC FairPrice, Singapore's largest supermarket chain, added in August a function to its online store to help shoppers easily find halal products and other more specialized types of food. The company has expanded product offerings at its online store by roughly 10% over the past year. The virtual supermarket has attracted nearly 100,000 members.

Lifestyle change

Online fresh food shopping did not take off until recently in Singapore: Visiting stores is easy because of this tiny country's well-developed public transport network. More people are shopping for groceries online today as a result of lifestyle change.

     Singaporeans traditionally bought fresh food at so-called "wet markets." But market stalls close around noon, making it difficult for working couples to shop there. To cater to the needs of busy people, 24-hour supermarkets sprang up, resulting in fewer people going to wet markets, especially among youth.

     A change in the living environment is another reason. Most Singapore citizens live in the cheap, high-rise residential units built by the Housing and Development Board. Many of these apartments have small supermarkets on the first floor.

     But a growing number of high-income working couples are opting to live in luxury condominiums. Many of these condos do not include shops.

     Despite the dramatic growth, however, online sales are estimated to still account for just a several percent of the overall fresh food sales in Singapore. Most people prefer to check the quality and freshness of their food before buying.

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