Parents are hopeful that steps being taken by the Government to ensure access to affordable infant milk powder will put the brakes on rising prices.
The moves announced in Parliament yesterday include reviewing import requirements to facilitate more options on shelves here, and making more infant formula options available in hospitals.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority will also strengthen restrictions on labelling and advertising of infant milk powder, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.
While some infant formula companies give the impression that their particular brand of milk powder can do more for children, the scientific evidence for this is weak, he added.
He said all formula sold here, regardless of the price, meet food regulations and nutritional needs for infants to grow healthily.
"Parents should therefore be careful about relying on the claims made by infant formula companies, or be misled into using price as a proxy for quality of the product," he said. Cheaper options are no less nutritious, he stressed.
There is already a range of milk formula on the shelves, with prices for a 900g tin starting from about $20 to $30, up to about $60, he said, and consumer awareness efforts will be enhanced.
Dr Koh was responding to Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) and other MPs on concerns over the rising cost of infant milk powder.
Ms Tin said this has led parents who rely on formula to feel that they are being held "ransom".
The Straits Times reported in March that the average price of a 900g tin has increased 120 per cent over the last decade to $56.06, outstripping the increases for other dairy products and household staples.
Milk powder companies have told ST that the price hikes are due to research and development, and rising overhead costs.
Nestle said in response to queries that the price of the Nan formulation increased 7 per cent last month due to the significant rise in costs of raw materials.
While the Health Promotion Board encourages breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months owing to its health benefits, the Government recognises that, in some cases, infant formula is needed, said Dr Koh.
Children above 12 months old do not require formula, however, as cow's milk, together with a balanced diet, is adequate to meet their nutritional needs, he said.
Nestle, Abbott, Mead Johnson Nutrition, FrieslandCampina and Danone made up over 99 per cent of the fortified milk formula market share here last year, according to market research provider Euromonitor International.
Dr Koh said that to encourage more competition, the Government will simplify and streamline import requirements as well as remove unnecessary barriers to entry in order to bring in more options.
Supermarkets said they are supportive of the move and will work with suppliers and expand sourcing options to ensure greater variety of affordable options.
Parents said it is trial and error in finding a formula that babies will take to. Accountant Charlene Wong, 32, who spends over $200 a month on formula for her six-month-old, said: "It leaves you locked in at that price. Hopefully having more low-cost brands will push down prices."
But Mr Melvin Wu, 34, who runs a local parenting portal, said parents need to be educated on finding the most suitable formula.
New mum and marketing manager Stacy Lee, 29, said the cost of formula is just one of the expenses that come with a baby.
"I don't feel like there's a lack of choices though, so I'm not sure how much relying on supply and demand will affect prices."