Stocks of infant formula low ahead of National Day holiday rush

Stores reserving popular brands for mainland rush or to affect result of government stocktake

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 4:29am

Retailers are hoarding baby formula ahead of next week's National Day holiday in anticipation of a mainland rush and a government stocktake to determine whether to lift limits on exports.

Many stores told the South China Morning Post yesterday they did not have several popular brands, while some admitted they were reserving supplies for the National Day holiday rush that starts on Tuesday.

Retailers are keen that they are seen to have enough stock as Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man has promised to scrap the two-tin limit imposed on outbound travellers if it is found there is enough for the local market.

When asked how the government would assess the supply when some retailers might be hoarding stock, Ko said the review would be thorough.

"We will take into consideration how the supplier and retailer handle the situation before and after the holiday," he said yesterday.

The two-tin limit was imposed in March after a severe shortage over Lunar New Year. At that time, mainland parallel traders had cleared the shelves of products that they then sold on at higher prices on the mainland.

Supplies reportedly returned to normal after the limits were imposed.

But yesterday, only four out of the 16 retailers visited in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay had stock of popular brands available.

Other stores, including the chain pharmacies Watson's and Mannings, had sold out of Mead-Johnson Stage 1 or Stage 3, or both. A few stores were also short of Friso.

Several pharmacies admitted hoarding stock to prepare for the upcoming government test.

But Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman Lau Oi-kwok denied suggestions that chamber members had kept stocks to cheat on the assessment. He said some pharmacies might have reserved formula for parents who joined the chamber's coupon scheme operated with the milk manufacturers.

The Hong Kong Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association, which was formed by seven major formula suppliers, also denied hoarding.

The sup[liers will reserve 1.7 million tins of infant formula for Hong Kong parents.

The two bodies have long urged the government to abandon the limit, saying it had affected their business and the city's reputation.

A group of parents concerned about parallel trading around Sheung Shui yesterday said lifting the limit would only encourage more traders to operate.