Australian supermarkets and pharmacies have been running out of a popular baby formula after unprecedented sales reportedly due to Chinese customers trying to secure supplies.
Nutricia, supplier of top-selling formula brand Karicare, said on Thursday that there had been a sudden surge in demand for its products which had seen stocks plummet and left shelves empty.
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Major supermarket Coles said it was trying to arrange extra shipments of infant formula.
Some pharmacies were rationing sales across brands to a few cans per customer.
Media reports said Chinese residents or tourists in Australia were buying formula in bulk and shipping it back to their native country for family or sometimes sale online.
“Chinese visitors buy as many cans as they can fit into their luggage to take back to China,” one manager of a pharmacy near a major international hotel in central Sydney told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Many Chinese people are suspicious of domestically produced milk following a major food safety scandal in 2008 in which six children died and 300,000 others fell ill after drinking milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Sydney, said some pharmacies have not had stock of the two leading brands of baby milk formula since well before Christmas.
“Back then it was Chinese visitors to Australia who bought up the last of the remaining stock,” he said.
“The Chinese want Australian baby milk formula because they frankly don’t trust their own. Back in 2008, there was a scandal with industrial chemicals in baby milk formula that killed six children; a further 300,000 fell ill.”
Thomas added: “So with increasing numbers of Chinese visitors coming to Australia on holiday, they are taking advantage of buying up the baby milk formula here and taking it back home in bulk with them.”
A Nutricia spokesman did not comment on what had driven the latest spike in demand but told the AFP news agency its products were very popular in Asia, particularly in China.
“Because they had some issues with product safety with baby formulas a few years back they look to Australian and particularly New Zealand-produced products,” the spokesman said.
Nutricia has already quadrupled annual production over the last year’s to compensate for possible shortages, and said it was “working with supply partners to increase production capacity by a further 50 percent over the next 12 months”.