The Milk Powder Saga: Who Should We Really Blame?

Parent or not, we’re pretty sure you’ve been seeing heated discussions about the prices of milk powder on your social media feeds the past few weeks. From the OLs in the office comparing brands and prices of the formula milk they feed their children or espousing the virtues of breastfeeding to the kopitiam auntie lamenting to her regulars about how much her daughter-in-law spends on formula (true story!), there seems to be a big hoo-ha over well… powder.

So we thought we’d dissect the arguments and give our two cents’ worth (which we know is not enough to buy even a scoop of milk powder)!  

Image: imgrum.org

Parents

More often than not with regard to milk powder, it’s a case of parents wanting the best for their child… and who can blame them? From parenting Facebook groups to Whatsapp chat groups, there are multiple discussions about the merits of the different milk powder brands where parents chime in to share their anecdotal experiences with these brands – whether through personal experience or that from friends or relatives.  We’d hazard a guess that most mothers would try to breastfeed and for no lack of trying, should they have to supplement with formula, they would want to make sure their child gets the “best substitute”.  

“Brand xxxx has the most DHA”, “brand yyyy tastes closest to breastmilk, making it easier to switch” and “brand zzzz doesn’t give as much constipation as brand aaaa” are commonplace on these discussion threads and many parents trust these suggestions from other parents without necessarily doing their own research. Case in point – we recently found this graphic going around on the inter-webs and it drove home the point about nutritional content being similar across brands. Looking at it and how similar the formulas are to each other, we think it might be time to bust out the Dulac and put the extra savings towards the children’s college fund instead! 😉  

Blame meter: 2 of 5 – All parents want the best for their kids and rightly so, but parents must also do their research so they can make informed purchases.

Milk powder companies (Nestle NAN, Abbott Similac, Wyeth S26 etc)

Image: straitstimes.com

It was recently highlighted that milk powder prices have gone up 120% in the last ten years from average retail prices of $25 a tin to $56 a tin. On top of that, we hear from the recent Competition Commission of Singapore inquiry  that it’s because the milk powder companies have invested aggressively in marketing and advertising activities, strengthening parents’ perceptions that “more expensive means better”.

“WHAT ON EARTH?!?!?!?”… you must be thinking. Double the price, for roughly the same formulation AND yet these costs are passed on to consumers. Well-played, well-played… we certainly have a couple of choice expletives for these milk formula companies.

But we get it, milk companies are out to make money off of consumers. And on the losing end are parents, who might not have fallen for their marketing spiels but have no choice but to stick to certain milk powder brands that are more suitable for their offspring – regardless the price. Factors such as the formula not causing constipation, baby not rejecting it and it not causing an outbreak or a bout of heatiness are just some reasons parents will stick to a brand. “Expensive taste la this baby”… they’d lament while shelling out their hard earned money.                                                                                                                       

Blame meter 4 of 5 – Wah lao eh, make so much money liao still want to raise prices. Boycott your brands then you know. Someone has to do something about these shrewd businesses.

Distribution storefronts (Giant, NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage etc)

You’d think distributors are in cahoots with these milk powder companies. Scenarios like these play out in our minds all the time:

Brand X: Okay, we’re going to charge $50 a tin now.

Store A: Wah! From $40 to $50.

Brand X: Tell you what – we split profits okay? You $5, I $5.

Store A: Where do I sign? 😉

But in reality, distributors are price-takers. They don’t have much control over the prices that the milk powder companies set and therefore have their hands pretty tied. That said, it doesn’t mean they are completely helpless. NTUC FairPrice, realising that milk powder prices were (and still are) on the rise, went and sourced for a cheaper alternative to these premium brands. They have been the exclusive importer and retailer of Aptamil, Europe’s No 1 formula milk, since 2016. Priced at 20% lower than other similar brands, FairPrice’s Aptamil is aimed at helping union members stretch their dollar.

Image: straitstimes.com

Mummy Vian looking rather pleased with her FairPrice FairMily Kit freebies worth over $100.

Walking the talk, and we mean this literally, is NTUC FairPrice as they launched the FairPrice FairMily Kit at their FairPrice Walks With U event over the weekend. The kit, worth over $100, includes necessities like diapers and a 900g tin of their exclusively sourced Aptamil formula milk (FREEBIE ALERT!!!). You can sign up here!

This initiative is part of the NTUC Good Start Bundle and will benefit 35,000 babies each year. FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng was also quoted as saying that FairPrice would be making available better value milk powder relatively soon. Mmmm… we smell #competition 

That’s not all. A $1.5million milk fund was also launched by NTUC FairPrice Foundation and five Community Development Councils (CDCs) in February this year to help low-income families so their children are not deprived of the essential nourishment during formative years.

Blame meter 2 of 5 – Many retailers are price-takers and are not able to influence the prices that the milk powder companies set. But they should do their part to help moderate prices.

Government

This is one instance where “Big Brother Is Watching” is more than welcome. Watchdogs and the government can do more and should definitely step in to monitor any price-fixing or anti-competitive practices. This would help to stem price surges and ensure necessities such as infant formula remain affordable for those who need it.

Blame meter 3 of 5 – Under the Government’s watchful eyes, price-fixing and anti-competitive practises should be stemmed.

After the dust has settled

While some parties should shoulder more of the “blame” for the whole milk powder saga, it’s quite clear that all parties still need to work together in a bid to ensure that parents have a variety of affordable options that they can make informed choices about. After all, there are a lot more important things in children’s formative years then to constantly be caught up in debating milk powder prices.

Featured Image: Picsfive / Shutterstock.com

This article was first published on goodyfeed.com in collaboration with the Labour Movement of Singapore so you can make informed purchase decisions.