Pioneer in disrupting grocery shopping scene

Grocery and delivery start-up Honestbee is still sticking to the same ethos that it had started out with - to add value for customers in Asia and improve their food experiences.

Co-founder Jonathan Low told The Straits Times: "We are always looking at ways we can add value to our customer base. We think about how we can simplify food experiences for customers in Asia. That has always been the guiding force in all that we do.

"Although the company is undergoing some changes, we are deeply appreciative of the support of our colleagues and team members," said Mr Low, the company's chief technology officer.

The 32-year-old is the only co-founder left at Honestbee as it seeks to navigate choppy waters.

Co-founder and chief executive Joel Sng resigned on May 2, shortly after the company announced that it was suspending some of its overseas operations - in Hong Kong and Indonesia, as well as the food business in Thailand. It is also suspending operations in Japan and the Philippines.

Honestbee added that it would lay off up to 10 per cent of its global staff. Mr Sng was replaced by Mr Brian Koo, scion of electronics giant LG, who has taken the helm as Honestbee's chief executive and board chairman.

Co-founder Isaac Tay had left Honestbee last year, according to his LinkedIn profile. When the three men started Honestbee in 2015, online grocery services were not common in Singapore.

Honestbee was thus a pioneer in disrupting the grocery shopping scene: Customers could order from different retailers and have their purchases delivered in a single trip; they took to its concierge services and investors believed in its business model.

 
 
 

Mr Low said of Honestbee's roots: "From the beginning, we believed that retail still made sense. We wanted to add value to traditional supermarkets and boutique stores, and, by partnering these brands, we helped brick-and-mortar stores expand their reach."

The firm expanded quickly, moving into Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan within six months of its launch here in July 2015. It was operating in 16 cities in eight countries by its third year.

But cracks began to show last month when reports surfaced that funds were running low and the company was looking for a buyer.

Analysts said that the company had expanded too quickly and it needed a better business model.

In the light of these challenges, Honestbee is undergoing a strategic review, Mr Low said in an e-mail interview last week.

He still keeps in contact with Mr Tay, whom he met at a hackathon, and Mr Sng, his colleague in a previous company.

"Outside of work, I stay in touch as friends with (co-founders) Joel and Isaac. I always value the perspectives that they share."