Shelf life of Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre in question

FOR 25 years, it has been Singapore’s main wholesale distribution centre for vegetables, fruits and dried food products. In recent years, it also made the headlines as a chikungunya fever cluster, the crime scene of the murder of Huang Na in 2004 and a quarantine area during the Sars outbreak in 2003.

Now, the days of the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (PPWC) may be numbered.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB), which owns and manages the centre, wants to carry out a study on the viability of the centre. Among the areas the HDB wants studied are: Business trends within the next five to 10 years for the centre, the impact of direct imports and whether there is still a need to have a centralised wholesale market.

From the analysis of the information gathered, the HDB hopes to better assess the requirements of the centre’s tenants in planning and redevelopment proposals, either for the existing or a new alternative site.

Wholesalers told Today that the relocation had been discussed recently. In March, the Pasir Panjang Market Vegetable and Fruits Dealers Association held preliminary discussions with the HDB as the lease of the centre was coming to an end. As plans were still being finalised, most of the stalls’ leases were renewed for a further three years.

“We occupy a large area which could be redeveloped for other uses,” said vegetable seller Law Song Nam, who has been at PPWC since 1983.

PPWC, sitting next to the Pasir Panjang Port Terminal and occupying an area equivalent to 20 football fields, is home to about 1,400 units of stalls, shops, cold rooms and offices.

According to HDB’s tender document, the centre “faces the threat of being bypassed as a wholesale centre as there is an increasing trend for businesses to import directly from overseas suppliers”.

“This challenge, together with the ageing building conditions and other dynamic business changes, poses uncertainty to the future for PPWC,” it added.

Despite these challenges, wholesalers feel that they still have a role to play at PPWC. Thygrace Marketing’s owner Philip Seow who has been in the wholesale trade for 23 years said that besides market stalls, PPWC wholesalers also supply fruits and vegetables to food manufacturing companies, hotels and restaurants.

“Having more players at a common market means greater variety and more competitive pricing for customers,” he added.

Also, wholesalers pointed out that only large retailers such as supermarket chains could reap economies of scale by directly importing produce.

“Small retailers cannot buy 50 boxes at one go for perishables,” said Zenxin Agri-Organic Food’s Mr Tai Seng Yee.

PPWC also caters to retail shoppers. At the centre yesterday, Today spotted a few shoppers looking for bargains.

Source : Today – 12 Dec 2008

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