THE retail and food services sectors still have a long way to go in adopting new productivity measures to boost their businesses, a recent survey has found.

The Singapore Productivity Centre (SPC) and DP Information Group (DP) yesterday released key findings from a sectorwide benchmarking exercise. The goal of the exercise held earlier this year was to allow retail and food services companies to know where they stand in the industry.

Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, told an industry seminar yesterday that the exercise could eventually help companies understand their performance against international standards.

"(The) retail sector and the food services sector are, unfortunately, among the sectors that have not fully exploited the potential for productivity gain."

Companies were asked about their practices regarding productivity, including operations and the use of technology.

About 350 retail and 280 food services firms responded.

The findings indicate that most companies are using some form of information and communications technology (ICT), but some areas of their business are still lacking in the use of technology. For instance, only about half of the retailers are using e-commerce to sell goods and only about a third of food companies are using ICT in their ordering systems.

In food services, food waste is a major cost, yet fewer than half of the food companies tracked food waste-related measures.

Ms Chen Yew Nah, DP's managing director, said outsourcing some aspects of food preparation was one way to tackle the issue, as this "can really help (companies) ensure quality, less wastage... to keep costs lower".

In terms of producing more efficient workers, the main forms of training were on-the-job or peer- to-peer, instead of structured, training.

The survey found that 81 per cent of retailers and 69 per cent of food companies trained their staff through peer training.

Ms Chen said that structured or standardised training from a vendor could help develop well-trained staff who are able to respond more quickly.

She added: "On-the-job training is not bad... but along the way you have to allow for mistakes and who suffers? The customer."

SPC is coming up with various ways to help companies, including a new food waste reduction programme it has developed.

Dr Woon Kin Chung, SPC's chief executive, said the programme helps companies identify how they can reduce food waste through workshops, case studies and food consultancy services.

The centre will also continue to hold the benchmarking exercise, and the cost of participation will be covered by Spring Singapore.

Mr Lee urged small- and medium-sized enterprises in the retail and food services sectors to sign up, "to build a pathway for productivity upgrading".