The Supermarket Hierarchy

Food shopping in Singapore can be a challenge, so no wonder the locals favour eating out at the hawker markets.  In general, the supermarkets that look and feel more like a Western supermarket will cost you the most and those that loudly yell “you’re living in Asia” will cost you the least. No single supermarket will stock every item on your shopping list and every individual store from each supermarket chain carries different products. 

Marketplace – this is the top-tier of Singapore supermarkets. It’s owned by Cold Storage but shopping here will cost you the most amount of money, although they do carry more imported products than the other supermarkets. 

Cold Storage – the Fresh Food People! Now, where have I heard that before? There are more Cold Storage supermarkets throughout the “expat areas” of Singapore than the other chains. Though they carry a decent amount of imported products and have a reasonably wide variety of brands to choose from, there is still less choice than a regular Australian supermarket. The stores range from very big at Jelita to cramped at Chancery Court. There are also a few CS Specialty stores that are smaller gourmet shops that don’t carry a full range of products dotted around the main area of Singapore.

Fairprice Finest – the top of the NTUC Fairprice tree. The stores are typically large, spacious and well-lit, with a good variety of products and prices that are far cheaper than Cold Storage. To me, the fruit and vegetables at Fairprice is better quality than those at Cold Storage but most times I visit I forget that you have to get them weighed and priced in the produce section and not at the checkout!  For produce items (and some dairy items such as cheese) the pricing is typically per 100g, not per kilo, so be careful as you could find yourself paying $10+ for a lettuce.

Fairprice Xtra – the shopping experience is basically the same as Fairprice Finest but they also stock electronics, homewares and a small range of clothes. It’s not Kmart but it’s the closest you’re going to get to it in Singapore.

Fairprice – Fairprice have the largest number of stores of all the supermarket chains in Singapore. Regular Fairprice stores are not as spacious as those branded Finest or Xtra. They have a reasonable range but the organisation is a little haphazard? Due to space constrictions I assume many stores here (and Toys R Us in particular) don’t have a stock room, so stock in boxes is often stored on the shop floor making getting around the store an obstacle course. But Fairprice will save you money! For Australian readers think Bi-Lo.

Giant – Giant is also broken up into 3 different tiers, similar to Cold Storage and Fairprice. Until recently they operated “hypermarkets” but they have since acquired the Shop n Save stores. The Giant Hypermarkets are BIG! They have a huge produce section where you bag your produce and take it to the weigh and pricing section before proceeding to the checkout. They stock a large range of groceries, electronics, homewares, clothes and sporting goods. If you’re Australian it’s kind of like a down-market Venture with a Franklins attached. Giant Super just carries groceries and is typically quite crowded with not many imported Western products, but its prices are cheap and it’s good for a basic shop. There are also a few Giant Express stores for a quick top-up.

Sheng Siong – I’m going to be completely honest here – I’ve never shopped at Sheng Siong but I believe their prices are rock bottom! I can’t say any more than that as I’ve never been there.

Where I choose to shop really depends on both my shopping list and my mood. I typically choose between a couple of different Cold Storage outlets or Fairprice Finest. My choices are also dictated by neither of these brands selling durian.  
There are items that I like that I just can’t get anywhere but Marketplace (diced fruit in small containers for school lunches, spring to mind) so if I want them I have to accept the cost and buy them there. My local Fairprice Finest only stocks iceberg lettuce, so if I shop there I know I will have to go to another store (even just a different Fairprice Finest) to buy a different variety of lettuce. Grocery shopping here takes thought and forward planning!

If you’re new to Singapore you just have to give yourself time to figure out the supermarket thing. I promise it will get easier, just not as easy as it was at home!

This article was originally published in December 2013 and has been modified for the ANZA Guide to Singapore.

About the Author
Kelly Jackson-Nash is an Australian expat living in Singapore with her husband and two daughters.  Kelly and her family moved to Singapore in 2011.  Kelly hopes to see and experience everything about Singapore before their time is over. Kelly has her own blog at http://ourbigexpatadventure.wordpress.com/