Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Carrefour goes to the heartland

FRENCH cheeses and exotic wines will soon be at the doorsteps of residents in the north, north-east and west of the island as supermarket chain Carrefour looks to expand to these neighbourhoods.

Known for introducing the hypermarket concept to Singapore in 1997, the French company is set to open eight new supermarkets and one hypermarket, all in the heartland, over the next three years.

Announcing its expansion plan yesterday, Carrefour’s assistant operations and merchandise director Siva Kumar Haridas said this was prompted by greater demand from customers who want its range closer to home.

Its two current hypermarkets are located downtown at Suntec City and Plaza Singapura in Orchard Road.

Carrefour is not the only player eager to go high-end in the heartland, as consumers develop a taste for finer foods.

Local chain FairPrice this month opened two upscale FairPrice Finest supermarkets – in Marine Parade and Tampines. Its first two Finest outlets are in Bukit Timah and Upper Thomson.

The Straits Times understands that FairPrice, Singapore’s biggest supermarket chain, is also planning to launch more of its regular supermarkets around the island in the coming year.

But Carrefour is confident the market’s appetite is big enough for both players.

‘I think there’re enough customers and space. Besides we have our strong range of imported Carrefour products,’ said Mr Haridas.

The big players’ moves to expand will likely tighten the noose around the necks of mum- and-pop store owners and wet market stallholders.

Another supermarket chain, Sheng Siong, made the news recently when it bought five private wet markets as part of its expansion plans.

The convenience of supermarkets and their extended operating hours have led to more shoppers filling their aisles.

A recent Nielsen study found fresh food spending fell by 9 per cent at wet markets last year, but rose 53 per cent at hypermarkets and 8 per cent at supermarkets.

This year is likely to have been fruitful for supermarkets as recession-conscious Singaporeans chose to cook at home instead of splashing out on restaurant meals.

Latest retail sales index figures, taken in October, show that supermarkets earned more in nearly every month this year, compared with last year.

And bolstered by these sales, supermarkets are now targeting more niche markets.

Following in the footsteps of competitors FairPrice, Giant and Cold Storage, Carrefour has created dedicated halal sections in its outlets.

Their butchery, fish and bakery departments have halal areas for Muslim customers, with foods certified by Muis, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

As a result of rising demand among its shoppers, particularly Malay housewives, Carrefour has also raised its halal fresh produce by 30 per cent.

The chain now offers 12,000 types of halal produce and products.

Future outlets will have these halal sections too, said Mr Haridas.

The expansion will not stop there. He added that Carrefour convenience stores may be next on the cards.

In the meantime, Woodlands resident Maimunah Ismail is looking forward to more grocery shopping choices closer to home.

The 44-year-old customer relations officer said that for heartlanders who live far from downtown, ‘it’s inconvenient to travel so far when I want to buy promotional items or uncommon imported food’.

Source: Straits Times, 29 Dec 2009

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