Child genius claims in China driving baby formula demand and hurting Australia’s supply

Noticed a trend first hand in the Supermarket the other day. Foreign nationals sitting on the floor in the baby aisle contemplating in another language in front of the baby formula products. They ended up buying them in bulk, no wonder there are stories popping up like this one…Mick Raven

Esther Han

November 12, 2015

Marketing claims that formula can turn a baby into a child prodigy in China are driving the huge demand that has led to Australian stock being wiped from shelves and flogged on the grey market, an infant feeding academic says.

As outrage grows over the shortage, Woolworths has clamped down on bulk purchases, with head office re-issuing an eight-tin per transaction policy on Wednesday, despite being hit with multiple petitions to lower it to four.

Dr Karleen Gribble from Western Sydney University said a key reason why Chinese parents were willing to splash $100 for a tin of Bellamy’s Organic and A2 Platinum, five times the price in Australia, was because they had succumbed to unethical marketing claims.

China can't get enough of baby formula.China can’t get enough of baby formula. Photo: Supplied

“Formula marketers have tapped into this desire to falsely claim their products enhance brain development and health. Child prodigies and sports stars abound in marketing campaigns, and hospitals are recruited to promote formula brands to new mothers in hospitals,” she said.

She said the now-scrapped one-child policy had led to two parents and four grandparents seeing a baby as the future of their family, meaning they were inclined to only use the best products, especially foreign, “clean and green” brands.

Infant formula sales in China have increased by more than ten fold in the past decade. She said the change was to their detriment.

Baby formula china australia1

Jessica Hay’s photograph of people bulk buying baby formula at Woolworths went viral. Photo: Supplied

“Babies that are formula fed are much more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with infections, even in the best of circumstances,” she said.

But the cries of health experts are likely to fall on deaf years. Friends and family and profiteers are shipping the “white gold” at a relentless pace, which recently intensified with the world’s biggest online shopping event, China’s Singles Day. China was rocked by a melamine poisoning scandal in 2008 that killed six babies and affected hundreds of thousands more, damaging consumer trust in local brands.

Woolworths slammed by frustrated employees

Infant feeding expert, Dr Karleen Gribble, says China's move to formula is "harming babies".

Infant feeding expert, Dr Karleen Gribble, says China’s move to formula is “harming babies”. Photo: Supplied

Woolworths, which faced a fresh burst of outrage when Melbourne mother Jessica Hay’s photo of a group snapping up an entire pallet of A2 formula went viral, re-issued its eight-tin policy on Wednesday.

But a Woolworths replenishment worker in Melbourne said the policy, in place for a few years, was virtually meaningless under unscrupulous store managers who allow bulk purchases.

“We [have to tell parents we] don’t have any because your greedy management would not enforce the limit,” he said.

A Chinese "supreme infant formula" brand makes high IQ claims.

A Chinese “supreme infant formula” brand makes high IQ claims. Photo: Supplied

“As a worker our hands are tied until the management takes strict decisions in regards to whether they want to practice fair trading methods or just money and don’t care how it comes from.”

A Woolworths night filler said he had resorted to hiding cans until opportunists hovering around baby formula shelves, waiting for them to be refilled, would go away.

“When they see its in our cages of stock they call friends and they come in the store,” he said.

“We have seen very upset mums… come crying and it’s very upsetting for us to see this. We sometimes as night fillers step in and hide cans but they are gone the next day anyway.”

And the chain’s online store is a big vulnerability. A Woolworths employee discovered one delivery address was linked with 20 accounts.

“Going back through the order history, I was able to see that almost every single order had been for large amounts of baby formula or milk powder,” he said.

“There aren’t any real measures in place to stop people buying truckloads of it online and reselling it. It’s up to the store to mark the order as ‘out of stock’ or cancel it if they notice a suspicious purchase but this rarely happens.”

All employees asked to remain anonymous in fear of losing their jobs.

Despite difficulties in enforcing a national policy, angry parents have created petitions, calling for Woolworths to implement a two-tin or four-tin limit.

Australian Government to address formula crisis

Kelly O’Dwyer, the federal Minister responsible for consumer affairs, declined to be interviewed about the shortage panicking Australian parents.

Instead, her spokesperson told Fairfax Media: “The Competition and Consumer Act (CCA) prohibits certain forms of anti-competitive conduct and provides protection for consumers. In general, the CCA does not regulate a business’s decision about who to sell to.”

But Senator Richard Colbeck, the Minister assisting the Minister for Trade, said he attempted to hammer out a solution with chief executives of Coles and Woolworths.

“There is obviously an immediate problem now. I am talking to as many people as possible. If you are a mum who is looking to get infant formula for your baby, there is no question that that would be an emotional thing,” Colbeck told The Huffington Post Australia.

“I want to provide a solution that is actually going to provide the product availability to the customers here locally.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt said in parliament on Thursday that solutions to the shortage must be found.

“We should make time to discuss ways to ensure parents get the formula they need. And I’m pleased the government has said the minister has taken some action and they’re starting to meet, but don’t let this go until we find a solution,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is in China for trade talks, believes the shortage will be solved by the free market.

“My view is this, you pick up production in Australia… There is a problem short term in the market but long term in the market especially in agriculture you’ll find an equilibrium as more dairy farmers and more cows come into production,” he said.

“We just need a price signal to flow back to the farm gate.”

– with China correspondent Philip Wen

Read more:

I think this also extends to UHT milk products as a few times I have been to local Coles to purchase and none of a particular brand was left on the shelves, the assistant informing me that a lot of Chinese come in and bulk-buy milk products. Commenter LynneZ


You’ve got to be kidding. Talk about the ultimate marketing genius- convincing parents that formula is superior to the milk a mothers bodies make for free. Antibodies contained in breastmilk will never be able to be replicated in a tin of powdered cows milk. And the biggest laugh is the successful marketing of toddler formula- a completely unnecessary product which is used by parents who have been conned into being afraid of their toddler “missing out” on vital nutrients due to being a fussy toddler. And before anyone jumps on the “but not every mother can breastfeed” sure you’re right- 5% of women cannot produce enough milk to sustain their baby. For the rest it’s pure choice. If they’ve chosen an inferior product because a corporation has convinced them it is better. ..great. But don’t pretend it IS actually superior- it is milk from a cow, not milk designed for human babies. These great campaigns selling vulnerable parents “organic” “gold” formula is selling them a whole lot of BS- & these greedy companies are currently rubbing their hands in glee at the pages of free advertising given to their products right now- in Australia formula for babies under the age of 1 is not allowed to be advertised-only toddler formula. These companies have created this demand and made their products more sought after than ever before. And people are swallowing this in droves. Commenter Lou


This particular problem stems from the milk scandal in China where there is still a great distrust with the larger Chinese milk producers. Especially the Chinese who are rich enough to vote with their wallet/purse. When i lived in Shanghai i was always asked when i was going home for a holiday. One of the first requests was could i buy some formula as “the maths teacher has just had a baby”. Like many food commodities in China there is a certain percentage of tainted product. In Shanghai there is a foreign supermarket called City Shop. In the early days (2005) you’d only see foreigners shopping there but later on (2010) the makeup of shoppers was significantly locals. A good sign that the locals are looking for quality and clean. One obvious choice was UHT milk. You’d see pallets of local milk sitting there while the foreign UHT was always in short supply. CommenterTez


I used to sell products to a lot of Chinese tourists and I tell you they are extremely gullible customers. Anything they read online (or on a billboard I guess) they will believe, but if the experts are telling them otherwise they won’t listen. We even used to advise our Chinese customers against buying a product because their understanding of what it did and didn’t do was completely false, but they still wouldn’t believe us because they read it somewhere on the Internet. My guess is it has to do with their education system and their communist background, because they are not taught to think critically. It’s really quite an incredible phenomenon. Commenter jess

This is not just happening with baby formula. I notice that whenever a local Chemist Warehouse has a good sale on vitamins there is a particular couple of Chinese appearance filling baskets (literally) with multiple products. The quantities can not possibly be for personal use. Commenter Limits needed


“Marketing claims that formula can turn a baby into a child prodigy in China…” So wealthier/educated Chinese are just as gullible as Westerners, if not more so, when it comes to marketing propaganda? Have they no time or desire to verify if such claims as: “baby formula = child prodigy” have any scientific validity? Commenter PaxUs



Posted on January 13, 2016, in ConspiracyOz Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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