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Traditional foodstuff retailers go online

E-MARKET: Many traditional food merchants are now selling their products online with frozen seafood in particular accounting for about 60 per cent of business transactions in Qoo10's food category.


    May 09, 2016

    Traditional foodstuff retailers go online

    MORE brick-and-mortar foodstuff retailers here are now plying their goods on online marketplaces, listing products like bird's nest, fish maw and even frozen seafood.

    They include food distributors and wholesalers who typically sell their wares to restaurants, hotels and supermarkets.

    But they recently turned to selling directly to consumers online to draw more revenue in a competitive market, say e-commerce platforms.

    A spokesman for online marketplace Qoo10 Singapore said many of its traditional food merchants started experimenting selling directly to consumers about three years ago.

    Frozen seafood in particular has taken off and now accounts for about 60 per cent of business transactions in the site's food category.

    The site has about 200 such merchants - including large brick-and-mortar retailers such as Big Box and Emporium Shokuhin - with frozen snow crab legs, prawns and fish among the best-sellers.

    These items have proved so popular that sales in Qoo10's food category doubled from September 2014 to March 2016 to hit a monthly average of $300,000 to $500,000.

    "As wholesalers and distributors, they can offer good prices directly to consumers," said the spokesman for Qoo10 Singapore, which has about two million registered users.

    Another online marketplace, Shopee, has seen the number of retailers and orders in its food category more than double from November 2015 to March this year.

    Said its managing director Ander Orcasitas: "These traditional industries, especially food businesses, are extremely competitive and rely a lot on regular customers to maintain their revenue."

    He added that such businesses move online to "get greater market exposure to a previously untapped crowd and obtain cost savings in overhead and rental costs".

    The trend of selling online and demand for home delivery is what prompted long-time seafood distributor William Koo Seafood to start online sales.

    Seafood Shifu launched in October last year with more than 100 items, like prawns and sea cucumbers, on its website. It also lists products on Qoo10.

    Said Seafood Shifu's marketing manager Christine Lee: "We are seeing a huge trend of people willing to pay to get things delivered to their homes."

    Prices are similar to that of physical stores, said Ms Lee, adding that buyers are mostly aged between 25 and 50.

    Similarly, seafood wholesaler Causeway Pacific says most of its items sold online were bought by those aged 25 to 40.

    "Some working professionals do not have time to go to the market, so they order online," said a spokesman for Causeway Pacific, which sells its products on, and Qoo10.

    Teacher Novia Aw, 27, who buys frozen seafood online at least once a month, made her first purchase during Chinese New Year last year, when it was difficult to get such items at markets.

    "Since then, I have been getting from them, as I rarely go to the market and especially now that I have an infant," she said.

    Traditional foodstuffs such as abalone, chicken essence and bird's nest are also making inroads online, say retailers.

    Emperor Brand Bird's Nest, for example, waited three months to ring in its first online sale in 2011. "It has since grown exponentially," said Tan Fei Yee, its vice-president of marketing.

    Today, it is doing brisk business on its own website and on Lazada, Shopee, Qoo10, Groupon and Alibaba.

    The move did not hurt its stores' business.

    "We don't see much cannibalisation as it seems (those) shopping online are quite different from those who patronise our retail outlets."