Makgeolli wine or cactus chocs? Just order online

Fancy castella cake from Japan or makgeolli wines from South Korea?

Consumers here can now choose from a growing feast of food and drinks online, including oddities such as cactus chocolates and hot pepper gummies.

Major online marketplace platforms such as Rakuten and Qoo10, which are usually associated with clothes and electronic goods, are offering more food and drink items these days.

These websites, which allow different merchants to put up product listings, offer the usual potato chips and soya sauce, as well as musk melons from Japan. Around 2,000 new listings appear on Qoo10 every month in its food and beverage categories, which make up 5 per cent of total transaction volume. In all, it offers more than 28,000 such items.

Similarly, Rakuten Singapore's total order volume is growing by 50 per cent month-on-month, with F&B being one of its three most popular categories with upwards of 10,000 products.

Said Mr Masaya Ueno, general manager of Rakuten Singapore online shopping: "It is no secret that people in Singapore love food, and it definitely shows within the e-commerce space. Purchasing food online has become very convenient for time-strapped households."

While some people still worry about whether food bought online will be fresh or if its size will meet expectations, they are more willing to buy online now, said Mr James Lin, 27, senior public relations executive at Qoo10.

"There has also been a renewed drive to expand the food and beverage e-commerce space, showing that demand is increasing in this sector," he added.

Another online marketplace platform, Lazada, launched a wine and spirits category last October. The category, which currently offers more than 850 items, has been "doing well", said a spokesman.

Local supermarket chains also have Internet stores, and businesses with physical stores have ventured online for an extra source of revenue.

For instance, Kuriya Japanese Market has been selling food on Rakuten and Qoo10 since 2013 and last year respectively, and its online sales have been growing steadily over the past few months.

Said Mr John Yek, managing director of RE&S Enterprises which runs Kuriya Japanese Market: "We are able to aggregate demand and bring in exclusive products that we were previously unable to display at our brick-and-mortar stores due to their highly perishable nature. We see a huge potential in e-commerce."

Online retailers must follow the import and food handling regulations of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and National Environment Agency.

Rakuten, Qoo10 and Lazada ensure food safety in various ways, including by working with established companies, ensuring that firms are licensed, and working with the authorities to remove dubious listings.

The Consumers Association of Singapore has not received any complaints about food items bought from online retailers over the last two years.

AVA allows some food items, such as eggs from New Zealand and oysters from France, to be imported in limited amounts through parcel post for personal use.

These items, which should not be sold or distributed, are not checked by the authorities here, hence people should be aware of the risks, said a spokesman for the AVA.

This article was first published on Mar 7, 2015.
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