SINGAPORE - Amid calls for more affordable infant formula options here, supermarket chain Sheng Siong on Thursday (Aug 24) launched a new formula milk range from Australia, priced between $25.50 and $29.50 for a 900g tin.
The new range of formula milk was launched by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon at Sheng Siong's Tampines branch on Thursday morning. The formula is manufactured by Nature One Dairy, which is a Singapore company.
The formula is now available at 42 out of Sheng Siong's 43 outlets. The infant formula will not be stocked at Sheng Siong's Penjuru outlet as that store caters mainly to foreign workers.
Sheng Siong's new formula milk range comes after another supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice, in June launched its own affordable infant formula option, Australia's Own, which is priced between $27.50 and $35 for a 900g tin.
Nature One Dairy co-founder, Singaporean Masie Ng-Dimopoulos, said the company is able to offer lower prices as her company manufactures and imports the formula directly, cutting out the middleman.
Sheng Siong Group chief executive Lim Hock Chee said: "It is with the support of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) that we are able to bring in the Nature One Dairy formula range so swiftly. Australia has a very well-established dairy industry and Australian dairy products are particularly well received for being clean, unpolluted and safe; and adhering to the highest food standards and strict government health regulations.
"We are very happy to work with Nature One Dairy, which is a Singapore company, to offer local parents a safe and affordable high-quality alternative."
The prices of infant formula milk options in Singapore had in May this year become a hot button topic when the Competition Commission of Singapore released the findings of a year-long inquiry into rising formula milk prices.
The report had found that the average price of a 900g tin of infant milk powder has more than doubled over the last decade to $56.06.
Housewife Candy Wong, 34, spends more than $150 a month on infant formula for her three-year-old son. She welcomed the cheaper option launched at Sheng Siong today, saying that the new Nature One Dairy range costs about half what most other brands were retailing at. "It's good to have cheaper options. With the money saved, I can spend more on other baby products, like diapers, or on insurance," said Mrs Wong.
Brand loyalty and a preference for premium products among parents were factors that prompted formula milk companies to invest heavily in marketing and research and development, which contributed to the average retail price of formula milk more than doubling over the past nine years.
Despite marketing claims, experts said that all types of formula sold in Singapore, regardless of the brand, provide sufficient nutrition for infants to grow healthily.
Public unhappiness and debate over the rising infant formula milk prices prompted the Government to announce measures to address the issue then. Supermarkets also said they would look into sourcing more affordable options.
In May, a six-member task force was set up by the Government to address rising prices of infant milk formula by, among other things, tightening regulations on labelling and advertising, facilitating imports of more formula milk options, raising public awareness and encouraging good practices in hospitals.
Encouraging good practices in hospitals is important as the Competition Commission's report had also found that formula milk companies have been donating in cash and kind to hospitals for greater access to new parents and their babies, in the form of having their brands being offered as the default formula milk in maternity rooms for a longer period.
In an update on Thursday (Aug 24), Dr Koh said the task force has progressed well, saying the launch of the Nature One Dairy range marked the second affordable infant formula range in Singapore, which helped to increase diversity of products on the shelves and give consumers more choices.
But even as he applauded retailers for heeding the Government's call to bring in affordable products for consumers, Dr Koh cautioned Singaporeans against using price as a proxy for quality and urged them to look at the nutritional labels instead. He also assured Singaporeans that all infant formula ranges on the shelves here are safe.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) is also ramping up outreach efforts with a multi-year, multimedia campaign to promote breastfeeding and help parents understand nutritional information on infant formula tins so they can make informed choices, he said.
"We already started by partnering the People's Association at their Embracing Parenthood event, where we bring nutritionists and dietitians down to the ground to engage young parents in the constituency to share information," he said.
On tightening regulations on labelling and advertising, Dr Koh said the task force is looking at possible changes to the Sale of Foods Act, to take into account how to control advertising. "We will be working with Sifecs (Sale of infant foods ethics committee) to update the code to reflect current market trends to regulate advertising and marketing of infant formula. This is ongoing work, and we will have updates closer to the end of the year."
The task force is chaired by Dr Koh, who said then that the task force is expected to complete its work by the end of the year.