SINGAPORE: Housewife Jacqueline Soh has been feeling the pinch from the spike in prices of infant milk formula, as she has to feed her seven-month-old son and two-year-old daughter.
"Two years ago, it was S$40 plus for a 900g tin (of infant formula). Now it's S$50 plus for a 900g tin. So within two years, the price rose by up to S$10 - it's actually quite expensive," said Ms Soh. "My friend, whose child is already five years old - her daughter, when she started, it was S$30 plus a tin."
This echoes a recent study by parenting portal Babyment.com, which found that prices of infant milk formula in Singapore increased by 20.3 per cent to 39.3 per cent in the past four years, from December 2012 to March 2017.
The study noted that the smallest price increases were in Enfa products by Mead Johnson, across its Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3 formulas, while the Nestle Nan H.A. had the biggest jumps for its products.
Ms Soh said her children have to drink the H.A range of hypoallergenic milk formula for their eczema condition, so switching to other alternatives is not an option.
Concerns over the price of infant milk formula have got the attention of some Members of Parliament (MP) who will be raising the issue when Parliament sits on Monday (May 8).
MP for MacPherson SMC Tin Pei Ling told Channel NewsAsia that she hopes for greater transparency in terms of how milk powder is priced.
"Compared with other comparable countries, it (the price) is two to three times more. So I find the jump being too significant to be explained by a rise in operating expenses," said Ms Tin. "I think there must be fair pricing whether in terms of over time, or whether in terms of comparing with other countries. I think this is something that as consumers, we should have a better understanding of."
Ms Tin added the rising costs have hit low-income families the hardest, as it is a huge part of their monthly expenses. “I will like to know better hopefully, with greater transparency in terms of how milk powder is being priced and how the increment is being decided,” she said.
LACK OF CHOICES AND ACCURATE INFORMATION
MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Sun Xueling said parents with children under a year old on average spend about S$191 per month on infant milk formula. That's according to an online survey she conducted with 2,500 respondents over three days.
"My findings show that the 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," she said. "The lack of choices and accurate information for consumers in Singapore can lead to significant pricing power by infant milk formula suppliers."
Suppliers, however, have said that the increase is due to efforts in research and development for infant formula.
Ms Sun expressed concern for low-income families as well. She noted the launch of a scheme earlier this year to help needy families pay for milk powder which would benefit up to 7,500 children, but asked if more help should be given.
Writing on Facebook, Ms Sun said: "I would like to enquire if the outreach to 7,500 families is expected to be sufficient and if there are more families in danger of not providing enough nutrients to their young children given the costs of infant milk formula?"