I’m one of those people who would rather queue at the self-checkout line than be silently judged for my grocery choices by a human cashier. So when Honestbee Singapore opened its high-tech supermarket Habitat, I definitely felt the need to visit.
For the uninitiated, this whole high-tech supermarket thing has been going on for a while elsewhere. The US already has Amazon Go, while China has Alibaba’s Hema and Carrefour x Tencent. So it was only a matter of time before #smartnation Singapore followed suit.
And since it opened its doors in October 2018, Habitat by Honestbee has been getting nothing but hype.
Think tech journalists wetting themselves over the whole cashless payment system and robots transporting groceries around, while lifestyle bloggers swoon over the Scandinavian interiors and IG-worthy fresh produce.
As for Honestbee itself, their copywriters put overzealous OKCupid profiles to shame with dramatic descriptions like “the world’s first tech-enabled, multi-sensory grocery & dining destination”.
So does Habitat by Honestbee live up to its own hype? Here’s my honest review.
Some things to know before you enter Habitat by Honestbee
First, you need to find your way to the location: 34 Boon Leat Terrace. On Google Maps, it looks really close to Mapletree Business City in Pasir Panjang. In reality, the building itself is hidden in an industrial estate and is quite far from the main road.
Forget about walking from Labrador Park MRT. You definitely need to drive or Grab here. If you drive, be prepared for car park charges, unless you come on a weekend:
After you find parking and get off, it’s no trouble to locate the store entrance. There’s a very cheerful mural, which is where lots of confused people will be standing around as they realise they need to download the Honestbee app before entering.
That’s right, you can’t enter the store without the Honestbee app and an account. Fortunately, they have Wifi outside the store. After getting set up, you need to go to the app and tap on the “Bee Pass”, which is a QR code that’s tagged to your account. Flash this in the little glass window atop the gantry.
Don’t worry if you’re coming with your smartphone-less grandparents. You can tap them in first before entering yourself.
… And you’re (finally) in Habitat!
After what feels like forever, you can finally enter Habitat, which is like walking into a Scandinavian interior design catalogue. Copious amounts of blond wood? Check. Concrete screed floors? Check. Powder-coated steel? Check. Artfully arranged baskets and plants? Check.
One thing that you’ll notice immediately is that groceries take up only about 40% of the space. The rest is mainly a bunch of open-concept cafes. I’ll take you on a quick walkthrough of the groceries:
The first things you’ll see are fruits scattered around the place in wooden crates. The majority of fruits here are pre-bagged for convenience.
To the right of the various fruit arrangements is a small veggies section focusing mainly on Western vegetables: fancy peppers, vine-on tomatoes, zucchini, squash, herbs etc.
On the left wall is a butchery which has both cooked and raw meats, evidently a popular station. In front of the butchery, there are a few chillers stocked with poultry.
There’s also a fish and seafood counter, but it’s much less popular.
In its own forlorn little corner is a chiller section, stocking mainly ice cream and other premium dairy products.
Scattered around the groceries area are shelves like the below, which are stocked with packaged food items.
Rather than stocking daily essentials, however, Honestbee shelves mainly carry imported niche items. There are a few shelves for Japanese products, and some of the shelves are downright specific – there’s one for just pancake mixes and one for balsamic vinegars, for example.
And that’s it! The rest of the space is filled with tables, chairs and F&B stalls.
Is Habitat by Honestbee as overpriced as it looks?
Look, Habitat is NOT trying to compete with NTUC, Sheng Siong or Giant. Heck, it’s not even on par with Cold Storage or Jasons. (At least you can get a complete meal at Jasons. Habitat doesn’t even sell rice or bread.) So, it would be unfair to characterise Habitat by Honestbee as an overpriced supermarket.
However, I definitely got that impression at first. Because the selection is so limited, the eye is immediately drawn to exotic (read: absurdly overpriced) luxury groceries. Some of the items I saw that made me go “WHY…!?” are:
Dutch carrots ($8.90): Are regular carrots not good enough?
Piel De Sapo melon ($20): No reason for them to cost this much, really. NTUC was selling them a while back at $6.95 each.
Alaskan king crabs ($138/kg): Probably not a staple protein for most people.
Paleo pancake mix ($10.50): For when you want to eat like a caveman, but you too weak.
There were heaps more stuff that I didn’t photograph; think $20 French corn-fed chickens and $15 tiny bottles of Japanese ginger syrup (!?). You can browse the Fresh by Honestbee online store for more of such finds.
But guess what! Some items at Habitat are actually affordable
At Habitat, Honestbee displays cheap and expensive stuff together in one uncomfortable jumble. To find the stuff that’s worth buying, you need to sift through the organic milk and Kurobuta pork and protein pancake mixes.
Here’s a comparison of some of the more generic items I found at Habitat vs prices on NTUC FairPrice online and RedMart:
|Item||Habitat by Honestbee||NTUC FairPrice||RedMart|
|Marigold 100% Fresh Milk||$3.10||$3.10 (2 for $5.55)||$3.10 (2 for $5.50)|
|Eggs (10 pcs)||$2.40||$1.95||$1.90|
|Kee Song chicken fillet (300g)||$3.75 (reduced to clear $1.90)||$3.25||$3.38|
|Fresh snapper (whole)||$0.60 per 100g||N/A online||$2.41 per 100g|
|Fresh prawns||$1.40 per 100g||N/A online||$3.13 per 100g|
|Hass avocado||$6 for 4 pcs||$6.50 for 3 pcs||$5.95 for 3 pcs|
|Cherry apples (8 pcs or 500g)||$3||$3.37||$4|
|Yellow capsicum (2 pcs)||$2.35||$1.95||$2.35|
|Meiji Ice Cream Bar (4 pcs)||$7.50||$7.50||$7.50 (2 for $9.95)|
In general, these are the types of items that are worth buying at Habitat.
Non-exotic fruit: Pre-packed fruits such as apples, pears and avocados tend to be a bit cheaper than at conventional supermarkets. However, because the fruits are already bagged, overripeness and blemishes are a bit hard to catch.
Reduced to clear Malaysian chicken: Habitat carries a lot of decent quality perishables, but there’s not enough footfall here to move stock quickly enough. You can take advantage of this fact to score discounted fresh meats and poultry for cheap.
Fresh seafood: Possible because millennials don’t know how to buy fish, the fresh whole fish here is quite a bargain compared both supermarkets and (anecdotally) the wet market, costing as little as half or even a quarter of the price compared to elsewhere.
Some of the best finds are:
- Striped snapper ($0.60 per 100g)
- Brown grouper ($1.40 per 100g)
- Parrot fish ($2.40 per 100g)
- Chinese pomfret ($2.40 per 100g)
- Norwegian salmon ($1.45 per 100g)
- Gong gong ($0.60 per 100g)
- Littleneck clams ($0.60 per 100g)
Not only are the fresh whole fish cheap, they also look particularly fresh. According to the Honestbee staff, that’s because they come direct from fishermen in Batam rather than from commercial fishing giants. Socially conscious and affordable? We’ll take it.
OK, but what about the tech gizmos at Habitat?
All right, fine, so the fish here is cheap, but that’s not really why people are flocking to Habitat, right? The main selling point is still the fact that Honestbee has integrated technology into the shopping experience, such as…
- Overhead conveyor belt with “flying” grocery bags
- Scan & Go cashless payment experience
- Groceries packed & processed while you drink coffee
- Robots bringing your groceries to you
In my opinion, this is where Honestbee actually fared the worst. The tech did NOT integrate well in the whole shopping experience and I’ll review each point in detail.
Overhead conveyor belt with “flying” grocery bags: While visiting, I did see a couple of grocery bags travelling overhead on a conveyor. However, they carry groceries for Honestbee’s online customers, not Habitat customers. How disappointing.
Also, it’s hardly high tech. I thought there would be drones whizzing around depositing free trade bananas in bags and stuff. But no, it’s just a strategically-placed carousel that’s not all that different from Changi Airport luggage belts.
Scan & Go cashless payment experience: If you’re buying 10 items or fewer, you can simply scan the item’s barcode on your Honestbee app, make payment, and demolish your avocado right on the spot.
This was kind of a flop, because the app is not really compatible with Honestbee’s own barcodes. I had to hold my phone in front of each item for at least 1 to 2 minutes before it registered. The app also isn’t compatible with Apple Pay, so I had to enter my credit card details manually. What fresh hell is this!?
Groceries packed & processed while you drink coffee: For those buying more than 10 items, no need to stand around waving your phone until the battery runs dry.
Instead, you can just wheel your trolley over to this bunch of metal gates, scan your Bee Pass, and your items will be swallowed into grocery packing limbo. Then I guess you can go enjoy a latte at Lazy Loaf while waiting for the Honestbee elves to process your purchase.
It’s super relaxing! Not only do you not have to queue and get poked in the side by some irate Sheng Siong auntie armed with a celery, you also don’t ever get to see how much your total bill is until it’s too late.
However, I learnt that you have to make payment separately for certain items. For example, I had to pay for fish with Scan & Go separately, while the rest of my purchases went into the metal gates. Having to do this ended up taking way more time and effort than shopping at a conventional supermarket.
Robots bringing your groceries to you: After your shopping is processed and Honestbee has charged an unknown amount to your credit card, you’ll get an SMS telling you that your order is ready for collection.
From here, make your way to the Collection Point, where you’ll find a few geeks checking out the famous Honestbee robots. They aren’t even anthropomorphic sexy bee robots, by the way. They look like this:
After you scan your Bee Pass, one of those robo-cabinets will move up and down a track to retrieve your shopping bag and then come to a standstill in front of you. I stood there for a minute waiting for the glass doors to flip open, but it turns out they’re manual, so I had to open the door myself. Lame.
Overall, Habitat by Honestbee might be worth visiting if you feel the need to buy an entire salmon or Alaskan king crab. Or if you want to sit around in a Nordic-inspired canteen feeling totally “hygge”.
But if you actually want to buy groceries? Forget it. The tech is a huge let-down and actually makes it a greater hassle than shopping at NTUC FairPrice.
Have you been to Habitat by Honestbee? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!
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