Sunday, 28 October 2007

Unionised Canned Peas

In Singapore, canned vegetables are unionised. The biggest (and hence dominant) supermarket chain is NTUC Fairprice, owned as a cooperative by NTUC. As a union, you can join and get benefits, mainly a loyalty card which returns a dividend as an annual cash back based on your spending. I have the card but I think I'm not spending enough to make it pay.

Fairprice is pretty good I suppose (I can't get exciting about a supermarket); it's open 8am-10pm daily and prices are low. Occasionally there is something available for much less elsewhere. I am still stinging from noticing that a can of mushrooms was on sale at "The Cheapest Supermarket in Singapore" (Yes, that's its name) for much less that at Fairprice. The flip side to their Tesco-like dominance of the local market is they control so much of what consumers see on shelves. If they remove a product line from their inventory, it virtually disappears from sale, so the potential for supplier bullying is considerable.

What they do well is provide the basics for living in Singapore. There's a whole aisle of rice, but no olives. A full wet market, fish, live crabs and sometimes 'field chickens' (frogs) but no lobster. Bread is the soft, white kind, with many variations of "bread with something sugary" inside. You can buy a rice cooker (£10), a wheelchair or a lottery ticket (30mins queue at the weekends). There's an aisle of drinks, but only 1 brand of diet pop (Diet Pepsi). Instant noodles differentiate themselves by the flavoured soups and whether they are MSG-free.

My favourite stock item is the twin pack of 15W red bulbs for Chinese God's tables (they're called Chilly Bulbs in case you needed to ask for some).