Baby, or infant, formula is a manufactured food for babies often used as a substitute for breast milk. It is a powder or liquid concentrate that is mixed with water and fed through a bottle. It is widely used in Asia, which represents 53% of the global market share. In Hong Kong, a shortage in availability of baby formula led to restrictions on how much could be taken out of the city and into mainland China.
Milk powder supplies still not meeting needs
Shortages of infant milk powder are still plaguing many areas of the city a year after an export limit was introduced, with popular brands unavailable in 90 per cent of stores in some districts, according to a watchdog's report.
The Consumer Council canvassed 137 shops in 10 districts to document a shortage of the four more popular brands.
And while a fall in the number of complaints about shortages and inflated prices since a two-can export limit came into force in March last year could be seen as an improvement, the council's chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said the Lunar New Year holiday could once again bring serious shortages.
"The export limitation is still necessary at this stage, but the root of the problem is about supply," said Wong. "We have been in talks with infant formula suppliers, urging them to be consistent in their supply and to replenish supplies as soon as possible."
Wong said the reduction in complaints could be due to local parents having adjusted their expectations and being more prepared for possible shortages during the holiday season.
Mead Johnson was the brand with most shortages - being unavailable in 93 per cent of the canvassed shops in Sheung Shui, 83 per cent in Hung Hom and 78 per cent in North Point, the study, conducted this month, revealed.
In eight of the 10 districts, more than 50 per cent of shops ran short of Mead Johnson products. However, the company had increased its supply to local outlets since the report was completed in early January Mead Johnson said yesterday.
"From the beginning of January through to the Lunar New Year, we will continuously increase our total supply," the statement read. It urged local mothers to call ahead to order infant formula.
Wyeth had the fewest shortages, ahead of Cow & Gate. There were also significant shortages of Friso products, with half of the canvassed shops in North Point, Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan having no stock.
A spokeswoman for Friso said supply was stable, and had increased compared with last year.
Prices for certain brands in certain districts could differ a lot too - the most serious being a Mead Johnson product in North Point, where the cheapest price recorded was HK$285 and the most expensive was HK$380 - a 33.3 per cent difference.
"A 33 per cent difference is already very unacceptable," said council chairman Wong Yuk-shan. He said the council would speak to suppliers if it heard reports of certain outlets raising their prices to unreasonable levels, and suppliers would warn them or even cut supplies.