Is Bellamy’s baby formula disappearing?
Parents across Australia are worried that Bellamy’s Organic baby formula is becoming harder to find.
An Australian baby formula company under fire because of an “extreme shortage” that sparked panic and outrage among parents has blamed the situation on a massive Chinese online shopping event.
For months, parents have bombarded Bellamy’s Organic with complaints that tins of baby formula were becoming impossible to find, with pharmacies and supermarkets unable to offer any explanation as to why.
One Sydney mother claimed on social media she rang every Coles supermarket within 20 kilometres, a Melbourne mother said she scoured the shelves of 15 shops, and a Perth mother said she drove for three hours – all in search of the elusive “white gold”.
Isabel Wagner, with baby Alberto, was relieved when she secured four tins of Bellamy’s. Photo: Janie Barrett
Much of the blame has been pinned on the spiralling problem of people bulk buying “clean and green” brands, such as Bellamy’s and Karicare, and reselling them for profit in China, which in 2008 was rocked by a melamine poisoning that killed six babies.
Bellamy’s chief executive Laura McBain said the foreign buy-up had intensified with the upcoming Chinese online shopping event Singles Day on November 11.
Singles Day last year notched up $US9 billion in sales, more than double what was spent by American shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
A notice in Mandarin notifying the ration on baby formula at a supermarket. Photo: Supplied
“As a result, supermarket shelves in Australian are being wiped out. We didn’t anticipate we’d have a situation where mums couldn’t access our products,” she told Fairfax Media from Shanghai. “It’s taken us by surprise.”
The Tasmanian company became publicly listed last year and has rapidly extended its footprint across Asia. It opened a Chinese online flagship store in April to further take advantage of the lucrative Chinese market.
It estimates about a third of its sales in Australia are actually servicing the demand in China.
Laura McBain, CEO of Bellamy’s Organic, said the foreign buy-up had intensified with the upcoming Chinese online shopping event Singles Day. Photo: Mark Jesser
Bellamy’s generic responses to Australian parents had triggered wild speculations that Chinese investors had snapped up its dairy farms and the latest shortage was the direct result of the scrapping of the one-child policy.
“I guess the Asian market is preferential to your company than your own backyard,” wrote Victorian mother Jodie Skerke-Holmes on Facebook.
Ms McBain hosed down the rumours.
Parents are expressing their outrage at the shortage on Bellamy’s Organic’s Facebook page.
“Absolutely not, no, [Chinese investors have not bought our farms and facilities]. We’re proudly Australian and that hasn’t changed. The rumours, are just that, rumours,” she said.
Local retailers are also frustrated by the shortages and told Fairfax Media there was a “lack of information”.
One inner west chemist owner said he recently hand delivered two tins of Bellamy’s to a Cabramatta customer because he had promised her the formula would be back in stock. He bought them from another shop.
David Do from Mums Advice Pharmacy in Bondi Junction said shelves had been empty of Bellamy’s for two months and he had no clue when they would be replenished.
A retail chain spokesman, who requested anonymity, accused Bellamy’s of deliberately withholding stock so it could flog more of it in China.
“They’re seeking to capitalise on it. They’re declining to allow Australian retailers from increasing the amount they order to fulfil the demand,” he said.
Ms McBain dismissed the claim.
“We have not been withholding supply where we can. We haven’t favoured any particular country or retailer. We have not been underhanded in any way in managing this situation of unprecedented demand,” she said.
“Our ambition and aim is to continue to deliver organic to as many mums possible, not just in Australia, but in China and across the globe.”
Isabel Wagner, mother to four-month-old Alberto, was relieved when she secured four tins of Bellamy’s on Monday.
When her search in and around Marrickville proved fruitless, her mother and friend visited every supermarket between Liverpool and Campbelltown. They eventually found some product at Woolworths where there was a two-tin limit per customer.
“There’s a lot of confusion among parents, mothers not sure what’s going on and panic buying and everyone’s trying to grab as many tins as possible,” she said.
“You can’t just change formula brands. The baby can’t have an adverse reaction and has to like the taste. If it works for you, you tend to stick with it.”
Danone Nutricia’s Karicare and Aptamil formulas are also in short supply. A spokeswoman said it was also experiencing an “unprecedented” demand from overseas for its toddler products.
While it has boosted production of Aptamil Gold + Toddler by 50 per cent, and Aptamil Profutura Toddler fourfold, its efforts are restricted by the availability of raw ingredients.
“Danone Nutricia is aware that there has been a significant increase in the number of international infant formula brands entering China through unofficial channels,” she said.
“As a multinational company, Danone Nutricia is focused on sustaining supply to local families as the first priority. This applies in Australia, and in the other markets where we operate.”
A Coles spokesman said: “There has been a significant growth in international demand for Australian-produced infant formula. Due to supply issues across Australia and to ensure formula is available to all customers, sales quantities have been limited to four units per customer.”
A Woolworths spokesman said: “Woolworths seeks to ensure that we have sufficient stock of baby formula available for all customers, so we impose a four-can limit on purchases and have done so for some time.”
Bellamy’s expects stocks to improve from late November. Both Bellamy’s and Danone Nutricia have directed desperate customers to their online stores.