Singapore

CCS looks into rising prices of infant milk formula

Milk powder prices have increased at nearly twice the pace of nominal median income, said MP Sun Xueling

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has looked into the rising cost of infant milk formula, an issue that several Members of Parliament have voiced concerns about, and will reveal more in due course.

In March, The Straits Times reported that the average price of a 900g tin of formula had increased 120 per cent over the last decade to $56.06, outstripping the increases for other dairy products and household staples.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu said in a Facebook post this week that many families in Queenstown on assistance have asked for help with the cost of formula over the years.

"In families with several young children, especially those with special formula needs, this can come up to be a considerable monthly expense," he wrote.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling plans to ask about the rising cost of infant milk powder when Parliament sits on Monday.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling could not secure a slot to deliver her speech, but said in an interview that this is of particular concern to her as Punggol Town has the highest number of births and young children, with nine babies born every day to residents last year.

"While we promote breastfeeding, the fact of the matter is that sometimes mothers have to supplement," said Ms Sun, 37, who has two daughters, aged four years old and five months.

"Three years ago... the cost was about $44, and now I buy the same type for about $55."

Three years ago... the cost was about $44, and now I buy the exact same type for about $55. MP Sun Xueling

The price of infant milk powder here has increased at nearly twice the pace of the nominal median income over the same period, said Ms Xun.

Conducting an online survey on her Facebook page, she found that parents with children under a year old spend an average of $191 a month on formula.

She noted a similar tin of infant formula can cost up to more than twice as much here than in Malaysia, Australia and Britain.

Milk powder companies have attributed the price hikes to research and development, and rising overhead costs, though economists said it boils down to suppliers having the upper hand as it is seen as a necessity and a short-term expense.

Market research provider Euromonitor International said Nestle, Abbott, Mead Johnson Nutrition, FrieslandCampina and Danone made up more than 60 per cent of the fortified milk formula market share globally last year, and over 99 per cent here, with Abbott making up nearly half of the local market.

The market for milk formula here grew 17 per cent to $203.4 million over the last five years and is projected to increase further to $209.2 million by 2021.

On the marketing of infant formula, Ms Sun said of choosing a cheaper brand: "Price is one factor, another is the perception of what that brand and milk powder can do for their children. Obviously parents want the best for their children, so they're willing to spend."

A trip to the supermarket found that some brands imply on labels that their products may make children smarter, she said, raising questions about the evidence for such claims and rules around the marketing of such products.

Given that infant formula is a necessity for many parents, the introduction of a $1.5 million milk scheme in February to give 7,500 low-income families vouchers to buy milk powder is timely, Ms Sun said.

But more aid may be needed.

"If there are people who need infant milk formula for their children and the price is out of their reach, then we have to find a way of getting that help across to them," she said.

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