Savings from automation will benefit consumers: FairPrice

Lim Swee Say, Minister for Prime Minister's Office and Secretary-General for NTUC visiting the work site of NTUC's FairPrice Hub at Joo Koon. Photo: Don Wong
Artist impression of FairPrice Hub which will house a new High-Tech Distribution Centre, offices and commercial space located at Joo Koon. Photo: NTUC FairPrice
Artist impression of FairPrice Hub which will house a new High-Tech Distribution Centre, offices and commercial space located at Joo Koon. Photo: NTUC FairPrice
Published: 4:03 AM, February 28, 2014

SINGAPORE — Self-checkout counters at NTUC FairPrice’s stores and automated warehouse operations will reap savings from lower labour costs, which can be passed on to consumers, said its Chairman Ng Ser Miang yesterday.

Speaking at the sidelines of a topping-out ceremony of the new FairPrice Hub in Joo Koon, he said the savings will be felt through item prices and rebates, and that the supermarket chain will be “the last to increase prices, the first to lower prices”. He also confirmed that FairPrice is planning to introduce self-checkout counters to more of its 282 stores islandwide.

To be completed by the end of this year, the S$350-million, 16-storey FairPrice Hub will house the chain’s third distribution centre, new headquarters and commercial space, including a new FairPrice store and eateries. The distribution centre will boost 52,000 pallets, or wooden boards for holding grocery stock, and double FairPrice’s warehouse storage capacity.

To cope with the tight labour market, an automated storage and retrieval system will replace manual labour in replenishing the warehouses. It will be combined with the Caddy Pick system, which involves autonomous vehicles, mounted on a monorail system, searching for specific warehouse goods at the request of FairPrice stores.

Such a combination — the first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region — means that 28 per cent less manpower is needed, compared to another existing centre in Joo Koon. The new centre, which will be integrated with Joo Koon MRT Station, will also handle up to 10,000 cartons of groceries per hour, which is 25 per cent faster than the current system in other FairPrice warehouses.

Besides manpower and time savings, the FairPrice Hub also received a Building and Construction Authority Green Mark Platinum award for its environmentally-friendly features, such as solar panels, water-efficient fittings and energy-efficient systems.

On whether self-checkout counters at FairPrice stores will put cashiers out of their jobs, Mr Ng said: “We will still be using cashiers. But we also know there is a manpower shortage, even for cashiers, so (self-checkout counters) will definitely help not just to improve productivity, but also to cut down on reliance on labour.”

NTUC Secretary-General and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say, the guest of honour at the ceremony, said that given the labour shortage, Singapore has to pursue innovative breakthroughs to keep its economy growing.

He praised FairPrice for being an active participant of NTUC’s Inclusive Growth Programme — which supports automation and process redesign for companies — by raising productivity through self-checkout counters, self-scanning technology, SCAN2GO and automated warehouse technologies in the new hub.

“All these initiatives will add to our competitiveness and, at the same time, lead to productivity gains,” he said.