Cheaper infant formula options are just as nutritious, and parents should be careful about relying on the claims made by companies.
Regardless of price, all baby powder sold here meets quality and safety standards, as well as the nutritional requirements for infants to grow healthily. Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, gave this assurance in Parliament recently.
The increasing prices of infant formula might be painful, but most parents would choose to err on the side of caution when it comes to baby products, Singapore Management University Associate Professor of Marketing Hannah Chang said.
“Despite economic reasons, parents tend to make emotional decisions. They would chose to pick a brand that is trusted, especially if they are new parents,” she said.
A Chinese national, who wanted to be known only as Ms Xiu Xiu, is one of them. “I think the prices here are definitely more expensive, but I’ll still buy it because it is safer,” said the 33-year-old housewife. “I trust leading milk powder products, such as those with positive titles on them.”
Mr Ken Lim, 35, who has 20-month-old twins, tries to save money by supplementing milk powder with breast milk. His twins have gone through many brands because they often suffer from constipation or diarrhoea.
Mr Lim, who works in the lift maintenance industry, estimated he spends $1,200 a month on milk powder and diapers.
Ms Ernie Ellysa, 25, whose 14-month-old daughter has a skin allergy, said she spends about 30 per cent of her income on goat milk powder. The patient service associate, who also has a seven-year-old son, noticed there has been a price increase over the years.
“I used to give my son Similac because it contained DHA and Omega-3, which I thought would be good for his health. I’ve also tried giving my daughter regular milk powder before she had her skin allergy.”
Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic’s Dr Clarence Yeo said most parents are unlikely to switch brands based on price unless their child shows intolerance to the milk.
Two young mothers – Macpherson MP Tin Pei Ling and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling – had raised concerns about milk powder prices in Parliament.
Ms Tin, who has a young son, had asked why the rise in prices had far exceeded inflation rates and increments in other countries.
Ms Sun, a mother of two girls aged five months and four years old, said in a Facebook post that a standard tin of 900g of infant formula costs about $56 on average, compared to $25 in 2007 – a 120 per cent rise over 10 years.
A check of four supermarkets recently showed that prices of common milk powder brands can vary from less than $20 to over $60.
Dr Koh said that some infant formula companies give the impression that their brands can “do more for children”, but the scientific evidence is weak.
“Without better information, parents should be careful about relying on the claims made by infant formula companies, or be misled into using price as a proxy for the quality of the product,” he said, while stressing that cheaper options are just as nutritious.
Mr Koh also said the Government will take steps to ensure affordable infant milk powder by making more brands available to foster stronger price competition and provide more choices for parents.
By the end of the year, it hopes to simplify and streamline import requirements, and remove unnecessary barriers to entry.
To protect consumers, there will be more restrictions on advertising and labelling of infant formula. For instance, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority will prohibit the use of nutrition and health claims and idealised images for infant formula milk.
Currently, a code of ethics restricts advertising, marketing and promotion of infant formula for babies below six months.
The Health Promotion Board is reviewing if this advertising restriction could be extended to formula for infants up to 12 months old.
Low-income families who need to buy infant formula will get help, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said in a written reply yesterday to Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin and Aljunied GRC MP Low Thia Khiang.
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.
(Photos and video: The Straits Times and The New Paper)