Milk formula sales rocket in HK

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 February, 2011, 12:00am

The second-largest supplier of milk formula for the city's babies said yesterday its sales hit a new high last month, up 50 per cent from the same period last year, but declined to say how much it had sold.

Strong sales is one of many signs that demand for baby milk formula in Hong Kong has increased dramatically, probably because of traders from the mainland buying up stock to sell across the border.

The trend has angered many parents who complain about shortages of milk powder for their own babies.

Clarence Chung Chi-wai, general manager of Pfizer Nutrition, which manufactures Wyeth Gold milk formula, told a news briefing held to reassure consumers that it was unnecessary to fret over supplies, because the company had enough stock to last for a month.

Pfizer is one of three companies that have set up customer hotlines to help parents find stores with baby formula in stock.

However, only two local mothers had telephoned it for advice on where to buy milk powder since December, he said.

Chung said shipments of Wyeth Gold milk formula usually took about six weeks to reach Hong Kong from Ireland, where it was made, from the time the order was placed.

After landing in Hong Kong, it usually took a day or two for stock to be delivered to retailers.

After the mainland's melamine milk-contamination scandal three years ago - in which hundreds of thousands of babies fell ill - mainlanders' confidence in the quality of baby milk formula produced there has been destroyed.

With mainlanders sourcing milk powder in Hong Kong and Macau, some retailers have seized the opportunity to cash in by selling formula at a premium.

The normal price for a can of milk formula is between HK$150 and HK$190, but some traders have been seen reselling it for HK$250 on the mainland.

Some Hong Kong parents have urged the government to impose a tax on people taking milk powder out of the city, but last week Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said there was no need for such a measure.

According to figures from the Census and Statistics Department, imports of milk formula have increased strongly in the past two years, from about 15 million kilograms in 2008 to more than 17 million in 2009 and 23 million last year.

Meanwhile, public confidence in milk products sold on the mainland is far from being restored. Some media reported last week that some manufacturers added leather protein powder to dairy products, using scraps from tanneries.

The Ministry of Agriculture said last week fresh milk being sold on the market was 'generally safe' and that no leather hydrolysed protein nor other prohibited materials had been detected in its tests in recent years.

Big mark-up

Milk formula that sells for between HK$150 and HK$190 a can in Hong Kong is often sold across the border for up to: $250