Thursday, December 18, 2008

Singapore: COMO Group acquires organic supermarket

Dated: 11 April 2007
Reprinted with permission from Organic Monitor
Asian Food Journal

The Singaporean organic food scene just got a shot of wheatgrass juice in the arm with Club 21 founder Christina Ong's takeover of one of the biggest organic stores in town.

Mrs Ong's COMO group - which includes Club 21, COMO Hotels and COMO Shambhala - has bought over Supernature, one of Singapore's first organic stores, which began life in a quiet corner of Wheelock Place in 1997 and now occupies two units at Park House on Orchard Boulevard.

The acquisition of Supernature completes the circle of wellness that Mrs Ong created with her COMO Shambhala group of holistic centres and resort hotels in exotic locations like the Maldives, Parrot Cay and Bhutan. Besides centres offering classes in yoga, pilates, qigong and the like, COMO resorts are hot hangouts for celebrities and the well-heeled in search of tranquil surroundings that emphasise healing and personal wellbeing.

Group spokesman Ming Tan says: 'Wholesome food has always been a part of the COMO Shambhala concept. Hence, Supernature's entry into the COMO Group is perfectly aligned with COMO Shambhala's drive to inspire and challenge every individual to take charge of his or her own wellbeing and to make healthful, conscious decisions, not only on vacation or during travel, but every day in his or her daily life.'

To take over an existing store as opposed to starting one from scratch just makes good business sense, as Supernature has possibly the widest range of natural and organic foods, from vegetables to sustainably farmed meat and poultry. 'Business has been growing at an annual rate of 15 per cent a year,' says Supernature's owner CF Chen. 'It's come to a point where I cannot manage on my own any more - there are so many suppliers who have heard about us and want us to carry their products, but I just can't cope with the growth.'

Hence, six months ago, she entered into talks with Mrs Ong - a regular customer - to buy over the business in order to expand it. Under the terms of the sale, Ms Chen will continue to run Supernature.

Neither side would reveal the dollar value of the acquisition, but plans are to renovate the existing premises and open new stores. COMO is hoping to use Supernature's vast network of suppliers to increase the variety available here. Says Ms Tan: 'We aim to make it easier to eat organic, with more of our own retail outlets in Singapore and regionally, as well as in partnership with restaurants and other organic stores. In this way, we will be able to offer, directly or indirectly, a much greater range while leveraging economies of scale to make organic eating more affordable and practical.'

There is no shortage of investment in organic food retailers in Asia. COMO's market entry follows Cold Storage's opening of a dedicated organic food supermarket in January. 'Whole Foods Market' style organic food retailers are springing up across Asia as companies target health-conscious consumers. Not all are expected to succeed however, as retailers grapple with pricing and supply chain issues.

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