Some supermarkets now keep emergency tins locked away with the cigarettes.Source:Supplied
Some supermarkets now keep emergency tins locked away with the cigarettes.Source:Supplied

Qld mum snaps group stripping shelves of baby formula

THIS Brisbane mum is furious after witnessing organised groups of up to eight people strip baby formula from shelves.

Jessica Hook, 27, snapped the photos last weekend. She had arrived early at her local shopping centre, after receiving a tip-off that a shipment was due.

Ms Hook spends "a couple of hours" every week travelling to different supermarkets to find Aptamil Gold, the brand of formula she needs for her eight-month-old daughter.

"She goes through about a tin every week, and so I usually try to find a couple at a time," she said. "But in the last few months it's been such a nightmare, and trying to track down even one is considered a win.

Teams of shoppers strip baby formula from shelves.Source:Supplied
Teams of shoppers strip baby formula from shelves.Source:Supplied

She said she had originally assumed she could buy a different type, but learned you shouldn't switch babies once they were on a particular formula. "It can make them really sick and give them upset bellies," she said.

"Last week, when I really struggled, I was phoning up stores asking if they had any. A lot of Woolies and Coles now will put a tin of each type in the locked-up cupboard where they sell cigarettes, to sell to desperate mums."

She described the lack of stock as "out of control". "My little girl is eight months old, and for her entire life I have had trouble sourcing her milk due to the shelves always being empty," she said.

Supermarkets are powerless to stop determined daigou.Source:Supplied
Supermarkets are powerless to stop determined daigou.Source:Supplied

Brands including a2, Bellamy's and Karicare Aptamil are highly sought after by "daigou", or personal shoppers, some of whom make up to $100,000 a year snapping up products from shelves and shipping them to China.

Daigou sell baby formula, vitamins, Weet-Bix and other popular Australian products on social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, and through Alibaba's online shopping sites Tmall Global and Taobao.

The long-running infant formula shortages show no signs of abating, and it's not hard to see why - a 900g tin of Aptamil Gold currently sells for around 200 yuan ($38) on Chinese e-commerce platform Tmall Global, compared with $25 in Australia.

Despite four-tin purchase limits introduced by supermarkets and chemists, retailers are largely powerless to stop determined daigou, and fears that big Australian brands selling directly into China would kill of the daigou trade do not appear to have been borne out.

Ben Sun from digital marketing firm Think China has previously described the daigou industry as so well established that "almost every Chinese student would know someone doing this work around them".

"A Chinese consumer pays the daigou in renminbi," he told Reuters. "The daigou buys the product using the Australian dollar and then ship it."

Before it leaves the country, formula will usually go through so-called "souvenir stores", which pack and ship the tins in lots of under 5kg and label them as gifts or personal use items to avoid paying Chinese import tax.

Ms Hook, who lives in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, said last Saturday morning she saw "groups of four to eight people" coming in filling up baskets and then splitting up to go through the check-outs.

She had been told there was a shipment of her formula arriving, so she waited at opening time in the hopes of getting some. "They have started giving out times that they're meant to get deliveries so you know what time to be there when it's likely to be put on the shelf," she said.

The popular Aptamil Gold+ brand is often targeted.Source:Supplied
The popular Aptamil Gold+ brand is often targeted.Source:Supplied

"Within 10 minutes of opening, Coles, Woolworths and Priceline had all sold out of Aptamil Gold-plus, with groups of between four and eight working in teams to deplete the shelves."

Ms Hook said she had been told by numerous supermarket employees that there was a "large Asian population" that were onselling stock. "They're very conscious of saying, it's not a racial thing, it's just always a particular demographic, they come in groups, work as a team and clear the shelves," she said.

"Lucky I was finally able to actually get a tin, but my heart aches for the countless other desperate mothers who will make the trip there ... and come away empty-handed. You just think, if there's that kind of money in it, how can you stop them?

"The supermarkets are making money, so they don't really mind. They're obviously having to deal with a lot of upset mothers - they all know that it's a serious problem. I don't think there is an easy answer. They can't enforce who can purchase formula."

But she said "surely there is something that can be done", floating whether supermarkets should require proof of children, or institute a one-tin per person rule. "It's a tough one and I don't know the answer, but I can say the stress and frustration caused by being unable to guarantee the supply of food for your child is immense," she said.

Ms Hook said she had sometimes bought up to the maximum four-tin limit, but felt it was "not fair on other mums". "And at $25 a tin, some people may not be able to spend their entire weekly budget on formula," she said.

"The Aptamil brand has one online store that you can buy through Australia, but the issue with that is it never actually says whether it's in stock. You can buy online, but if you run out and need it in the next couple of days, you don't know whether it's going to be on back-order."

Earlier this year, a Sydney mum was furious when she witnessed a large group of people buying up baby formula at Coles in the inner-west. "There would have been easily 20 individuals purely buying formula that night - in that one hour," she told Kidspot.

"Seriously they were everywhere - no wonder staff can't keep up."

A Coles spokeswoman said "due to supply issues", there were "a number of infant formula lines that may not be available in all stores".

"Coles is committed to ensuring our customers have access to these products and as a result we are limiting sales quantities to four units per customer," she said.

"In circumstances where parents have a genuine need for additional tins, obviously we will take that into account. We apologise to customers for any inconvenience."

A Woolworths spokesman said the supermarket would "always stock products that our customers demand and want to buy, including baby formula".

"We have a four can limit on purchasing baby formula per transaction," he said. "This enables us to have sufficient stock for all of our customers."

News Corp Australia

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