I heard a report on BBC Radio 2 lunchtime programme yesterday about the shortages of baby milk formula hitting British supermarkets. Due to an increase in demand in China for foreign made powdered baby milk, some UK shops (Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons) have said the purchase of certain brands would be limited to two units per customer per day.
Danone, who make Aptamil and Cow & Gate baby milk powder, apparently asked for the restrictions, and said most supermarkets were introducing a restriction of two cans per customer in order to prevent some individuals from bulk-buying baby milk for “unofficial exports”. Retailers have put the same limits on sales of SMA milk, despite the makers Nestle saying there were no stock shortages.
So what is going on? Foreign-made baby formula is popular in China- worried about potentially dangerous levels of hormones and chemicals sometimes found in Chinese baby formula, go to great lengths (and are willing to pay a premium price) to buy foreign brands. Their fears are not without foundation- in 2008 a locally-manufactured formula containing the industrial chemical melamine killed six infants and caused illness in another c.300,000.
Due to the higher prices Chinese parents are willing to pay, there are big profits to be made selling foreign formula, and it seems people have been buying in bulk to (unofficially) export to China, or send over to relatives. Since the introduction of restrictions in UK supermarkets, there has also been an increase in sales as Mums have been stocking up on their favourite brand- which in turn has led to shortages on the shelves. On a local Harrogate Mums Facebook page, ladies are reporting near empty shelves in the local Morrisons and Asda.
It seems some entrepreneurs are hoping to make a quick buck without the hassle of international shipping, and cans of baby milk are selling on eBay for twice the shop price.
Time for a “Keep Calm and Don’t Panic Buy” government poster?!