A reader of this parish, a blissfully content new grandfather,
which makes a change from his usual curmudgeonly, contrarian, argumentative self, in between making coochy-coo noises and blowing bubbles at his new granddaughter, decided to do something practical towards the smooth running of the junior dynastic household.
He would pay for the first month’s supply of milk formula and nappies and present them to the proud mother and father. A most commendable idea. A damn sight more practical than half a metre of furry fabric fashioned into a facsimile of Ella in ‘Frozen’, a film that will be long forgotten by the time said new addition realises what it is that she’s been chewing on…
He applied himself to his weekly shopping on-line with Tesco. ’72 nappies suitable for a newborn, please’. No problem Sir, that will be £21.00 – or you can have them for £16.00 each if you buy two or more packs, we like customers who buy lots’.
Then he tried to buy Cow and Gate First Infant Milk Formula – and was puzzled that Tesco suddenly didn’t like customers who buy lots – the Milk Formula was rationed to two tins per order. Could there really be that many new born babies in Britain that rationing had been instituted? Was this a child protection issue – Tesco trying to ensure that ‘rings’ weren’t grooming new borns by plying them with extra tins of First Infant? Could you overdose on First Infant if you had access to more than two tins? Was it an ingredient in the traditional milk bottle Molotov cocktail?
Naturally he wrote to Ms Raccoon to find out. And verrily, Ms Raccoon groaned to herself. I mean what in God’s name does Ms Raccoon know about nappies and milk formula? Or want to know. Or need to know. Or has ever expressed the slightest inclination regarding wanting to know. Or anything. Grr.
Beside which, this is an old story, weren’t the Chinese buying bulk supplies and starving hard working British newborns into the gutter or something two years ago?
But she is rather fond of the newly moist-eyed grandfather, especially when he is at his wittiest rather than blowing bubbles, and he did make her howl with laughter on a day when her new windows were being fitted in a force nine gale, and that takes some doing; so she resolved to solve the great Milk Formula shortage. Couldn’t take more than five minutes could it? Keep an old commentator happy? Show willing?
Welcome to the Milk Formula rabbit-hole.
The first surprise is that Milk Formula belongs to a narrow band of products like Tobacco and some Prescription Drugs that are not illegal in themselves, but can be illegal to advertise. Infant Milk Formula even has its own special set of laws: (note: there is a difference between ‘infant’ milk formula, and what is termed ‘follow-on formula’ for older babies and that difference is another minefield in itself).
Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007).
(1) No person shall at any place where any infant formula is sold by retail—
(a) advertise any infant formula;
(b) make any special display of an infant formula designed to promote […]
(d) promote the sale of an infant formula by means of premiums, special sales, loss-leaders or tie-in sales; or
(e) undertake any other promotional activity to induce the sale of an infant formula.
So, no two for one offers, no reduced prices if you buy two, in fact no inducements to buy whatsoever….er, read on…..
You see, no one ever ‘returns’ to breast feeding. You breast feed from date of birth, or not at all. Hence the battle to sell you milk formula from day one. A battle in which the manufacturer’s hands are firmly tied.
I thought the battle ground was in African countries, but it turns out that Britain is second only to plucky little Belgium when it comes to a reticence to breast feed. 25% of British babies have never had breast milk.
Cow & Gate, the brand of Infant Formula that my reader wants, is made by Danone. Danone, an Irish firm, also make a more expensive – ‘Premium’ – product called Aptamil. Two years ago, Cow & Gate was priced at £10.40 and Aptamil at £12.00. When the NHS were forced to investigate during the previous ‘the Chinese are buying all our baby milk’ scare, they inadvertently discovered that the contents of both products were identical, only the packaging differed. Interesting.
It was also found that there are considerable difficulties in sending bulk supplies of British baby milk into China – the Chinese authorities won’t admit it unless it is labelled in Chinese. It would be dangerous to feed a new born babe on the ‘Follow-on’ Formula for obvious reasons, and if you can’t read the label you can’t tell the difference. Labels printed to comply with EU regulations don’t feature Chinese. There may have been a few isolated cases of Chinese families resident here sending some infant formula back to their own families, but no large scale export.
However, the press releases issued to explain the disappearance of Infant Formula from British supermarkets in 2012/13 possibly being down to those dastardly Chinese did pique the interest of the media, who cheerfully printed stories involving Infant Formula…that ‘not to be advertised product’.
There have been several challenges to the Advertising Standards Board concerning the impression given by legitimate advertising for ‘Follow-on Formula’, with its smiling babies and cute toddlers. The Which organisation found that parents could save £500 a year by giving toddlers cow’s milk rather than the expensive formulas with no loss of nutrients. Why would manufacturers spend so much money advertising a product that has limited use? Could that be simply because they can advertise it – and then put it on a shelf next to the Infant Formula that they can’t advertise?
We are no nearer to finding a reason why supplies should be rationed though, are we? Except for some research done by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning Economist, on sales techniques for Campbell’s soup:
On some days, a sign on the shelf said limit of 12 per person.
On other days, the sign said no limit per person. Shoppers purchased an average of 7 cans when the limit was in force, twice as many as they bought when the limit was removed.
Rationing implies that the goods are flying off the shelves, and shoppers should feel some urgency about stocking up.
I think that might be your answer Granddad! You were limited in your desired quantity – but anyone just popping in to buy one tin would have felt obliged to buy two just in case there was none next time….
The brilliant thing about Infant Formula, from the manufacture’s point of view is that you really only need to ‘sell’ the first tin – after that the new parents have no choice other than to keep buying it – or starve the little darling. Too late to go the make-it-yourself method. No wonder it’s such big business.
Right, next question?