TL;DR – Got milk?
There has been much talk in recent months about rising milk powder prices. According to figures from the Singapore Department of Statistics, over the past decade, the average price of a tin of infant milk powder has gone from $25.42 to $56.06, a rise of about 120 per cent.
Parliament yesterday was abuzz with concerns about these rising prices and how the government will take steps to ensure affordable milk powder options for Singaporeans.
So, who said what?
It started with MP for Punggol West Constituency and new mother Sun Xueling’s Facebook note uploaded last Friday 5 May, 2017:
In it, she detailed her findings which reveal that market structure for infant milk formula in Singapore is more concentrated than that of global markets and that marketing practices may not have kept up with international best practices. The lack of choices and accurate information for consumers in Singapore can lead to significant pricing power by infant milk formula suppliers.
It’s IQ, not IQ!
Sun also highlighted something that we think is worth mentioning here,
Any random shopper to supermarket in Singapore will inevitably observe that when faced with the array of infant formula brands, certain brands of infant formula are aggressively marketing improvements in IQ with the consumption of their infant milk powder. This is purportedly due to the addition of certain special ingredients in their infant milk formula.
I was first surprised to find out on closer look at the packaging that the so called “IQ” branding that is featured on some cans of infant formula, contrary to common perception, actually stands for “Intestinal quality” as opposed to “Intelligence quotient” as we typically understand IQ to stand for. Any well-meaning parent, eager for their child to do well academically, could hardly be faulted for purchasing infant formula that at first glimpse purports to help increase the “IQ” of the child, without realising that the IQ in the said advertising actually stands for intestinal quality.
We, too, echo Sun’s call for better policing of advertising claims.
The Doctor Says…
To which Senior Minister of State of Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon replied in Parliament, that the Government is working to make more formula milk options available. They will take steps to increase consumer awareness, encourage good practices in hospitals and further tighten restrictions on labelling and advertising. In addition, the Ministry of Health will work with industry players to make available more infant formula options in hospitals, he said.
More importantly, he also explained that all formula in Singapore fulfil minimum nutritional requirements set by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority and there should be no guilt on parents’ part about getting a cheaper brand of milk, as long as their child can get used to the milk. He added,
“There’s no real reason to pay up more for something that is just as good and much cheaper.”
NTUC FairPrice Responds
According to the media advisory released yesterday, FairPrice says it supports the Government’s call to address rising prices of infant formula. FairPrice provides over 150 varieties of infant formula from different brands, formulations and pack sizes and also specially brought in a high quality range of infant formula, Aptamil, a leading brand in Europe, and priced it 20 percent lower than comparable brands for all union members.
MP for Marine Parade GRC (Braddell Heights) and CEO of NTUC FairPrice, Seah Kian Peng was quoted in the advisory,
“FairPrice shares the concerns among parents today on the cost of infant milk powder, which is a daily nutritional staple for growth and development of infants and toddlers. We agree that more public education and understanding on the benefits of infant milk formula will help parents make more informed choices, and a review of import requirements will help us to provide better value options for our customers.”
Help for Low-Income Families
Meanwhile, the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) is looking into the rising cost of infant milk formula in Singapore. For now, there is some relief for low-income families who may face difficulties purchasing infant milk formula for their young children.
A new S$1.5 million scheme to help needy families across Singapore pay for milk powder was launched in February 2017. The programme is jointly launched by NTUC FairPrice Foundation and the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) which contributed S$1 million and S$500,000, respectively. Up to 7,500 children are expected to benefit.
Under this scheme, low-income families will receive milk fund vouchers upfront, in 20-dollar denominations of S$200 per child aged between six months and three years old, and S$100 per child aged between four and six years old.