Producers boost supply of baby milk powder

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am

Pharmaceutical companies say there is no shortage of baby milk powder in the stores, even though demand from shoppers has increased sharply.

Pingo Luk Yip-shing, general manager of Abbott Nutrition, said the demand for baby milk powder had been rising for six months, so the manufacturer had increased supplies by 20 per cent to 30 per cent from the last quarter of last year.

The rise in demand came about 'because parents on the mainland believe it is safer to get milk powder in Hong Kong', he said. 'Secondly, there are some people who purchase milk powder in bulk and transport it back to [mainland] China for resale.'

Mr Luk said it was difficult to estimate the demand from these groups, but that deliveries to retail outlets were being made more frequently - once or twice a week instead of once a month - to ensure a steady supply.

Local customers could place phone orders if they could not find the powder in the shops, he said, adding the firm kept at least 11/2 months' supply in stock - enough to handle any further rise in demand. Two other brands - Wyeth Hong Kong and Mead Johnson - said they had increased supplies in response to the rise in demand.

'The demand in the first three months of this year was a lot greater than that of the same period a year ago,' Mead Johnson's marketing director, Tam Shuk-ching, said.

Retail prices of milk powder rose by 3 per cent to 7 per cent in November and December, retailers said.

Ms Tam said prices of her company's product were up by 7 per cent in December because of higher costs - not because of the strong demand.

Retailers - including ParknShop, Watsons and Wellcome - said the supply of baby milk powder was steady, even though some products were out of stock in some stores.

Lau Hon-fai, owner of the Sing Fai Dispensary in Ngau Tau Kok, said that the supply of certain brands - especially Mead Johnson's line for babies younger than six months - had been uncertain, as retailers could not get as much stock as they wanted.

'We can at most get 12 cans of a particular line per week,' Mr Lau said. 'And our shelves are cleared soon after we refill the stock.'

Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman Lau Oi-kwok said some dispensaries lacked baby milk powder during the Easter holiday, worrying some parents. The chamber hoped to meet Mead Johnson representatives next week to ask for an increase in supply.

'Otherwise, parents will have to switch to another brand,' Mr Lau said.

Noel Or Wing-hang, who has two daughters, said she had found it 'very difficult' to buy milk powder for her 10-month-old baby last month. 'We visited several dispensaries in Prince Edward and other retailers, but we couldn't find any stock of the brand my daughter was used to drinking.'