China's Singles' Day buying frenzy sparks baby formula shortage in Australia

Employees working at a logistic centre in Suzhou in China's Jiangsu province.
Employees working at a logistic centre in Suzhou in China's Jiangsu province.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - An Australian company apologised to local mothers on Tuesday (Nov 10) after its premium organic baby milk formula flew off domestic supermarket shelves ahead of China's Singles Day buying frenzy on Wednesday (Nov 11).

Consumers spent nearly US$8 billion (S$11.3 billion) in the first 10 hours of Singles' Day, a 24-hour shopping promotion created by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, with infant formula maker Bellamy's Organic caught up in the world's biggest online retail event.

Bellamy's, based in the southern island of Tasmania, apologised to its Australian customers in a Facebook post on Tuesday after complaints from shoppers that they were unable to buy the formula, nicknamed "white gold", at their local stores.

"We understand at this time, it is difficult to source our range of products and acknowledge the frustration this causes for our Bellamy's mums and dads," said the company, which is owned by Australian-listed Bellamy's Australia.

Bellamy's chief executive Laura McBain said the huge demand from China, which started before Singles' Day, had "taken us by surprise".

"As a result, supermarket shelves in Australia are being wiped out. We didn't anticipate we'd have a situation where mums couldn't access our products," she told the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday.

Bellamy's Australia, which listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in August last year, has seen its shares spike from its A$1 offer price to above A$10.05 in just 15 months, in what market analyst Angus Nicholson said was a reflection of a demand for "new China stocks" - companies that cater to the country's middle class consumers.

"It's seen a huge spike just this week, and a lot of it has been driven by the Singles Day sales in China," Mr Nicholson told AFP.

"It's almost been completely impossible for consumers in Australia and New Zealand to get hold of infant formula powder... because it's all been shipped off to China for this bulk-buying on online sales websites."

He said a number of other Australian companies, such as vitamins and supplements maker Blackmores, have also seen their stocks perform "very strongly".

Shares in Bellamy's Australia were up 4.91 per cent to A$10.05 in afternoon trade in Sydney.

"Singles' Day" was first marketed as an "anti-Valentine's Day" in China and featured hefty discounts to lure the country's singletons and price-sensitive buyers.