Foodland was Bangkok’s first Thai-owned modern supermarket chain, and thanks to general manager Edwin Lim, after 34 years and the coming of foreign mega-stores it’s still the first choice of a legion of loyal patrons.
Mr Lim that after Mr Lam’s death he was a “victim of circumstances”, as all shareholders and directors were looking to him to run the business. At that time he was involved in the import-export business. He accepted even though he had to learn everything from scratch.
The second big test for Foodland, according to Mr Lim, was the arrival of competitors. “They began arriving in the early 80’s, with the Japanese being the first. They didn’t expect that the local operator could withstand their force. They were all well organised, with strong purchasing power.”
Fortunately, at that time Foodland had already developed a large regular Thai and foreign customer base. However, in many aspects the mega-stores put them at a disadvantage. Mr Lim said: “When they arrived, the suppliers treated them better than us. They had some price advantages, so it was very tough for us, especially in the beginning, because they were selling at a lower cost.”
But Mr Lim then explained how the arrival of megastores actually benefited Foodland: “When these guys came, they advertised and published brochures. They created more interest from the customers, and this broadened our base as well. When the new customers started to explore retail outlets, quite a lot of them discovered that we offered better service and quality. Not everybody is after only cheap things. The result of the ‘invasion’ was that we not only survived, but expanded!
“We opened two new stores in 1979, one in 1988, another one a year later, two outlets in 1991, more stores in 2000 and 2003 and the latest in November, 2005. We had closed our Ploenchit store because the lease ran out and the building was demolished to make way for a new development project.”
Mr Lim also said Foodland is a ‘family business’ and this will continue. Many of the staff, both Thais and foreigners, has been with the company for many years, some right from the opening in 1972. “When our business started 34 years ago, we pioneered the one-stop shopping concept. We opened Took Lae Dee restaurants in most of our branches, pharmacies, small bakeries, dry cleaning services, newspaper and fresh flowers sections. We were the first in Thailand to introduce ready-to-cook meals in the early 1980s.
“We have a meat processing plant at Ladkrabang that produces over 300 items, including processed meats, sausages and other products, not only for our stores but also for some 100 hotels and restaurants all over Thailand, as well as air-catering companies and so on. The factory has a staff of about 100 and so does our large bakery. We produce Butcher’s Choice and Oven Fresh brands. We also have a vegetable processing and packaging facility.” Mr Lim disclosed that his only store outside Bangkok, the one in Pattaya, is the busiest of all branches.
“Despite our successes, we still advertise in the media. We were the first-ever colour advertiser in the Bangkok Post, with a full-page ad published on Saturday, June 26, 1982.” He admits that the biggest problems he faces are with personnel. “We train them and someone tries to pinch them from us.”
When he travels he likes to visit supermarkets in other countries to get ideas to take back to Foodland.
Edwin Lim is a remarkable person and real businessman. You won’t meet another one like him in Thailand. He would to talk to his customers when visiting Foodland branches and sometimes pays cash for his drink and food. He is a man who could play a ‘big shot’ but doesn’t. Mr Lim didn’t possess a mobile phone but his driver did. If you would like to contact him – and this applies until today – you must call Foodland’s head office and leave a message with his secretary. He will call back.