SINGAPORE: Undeterred by the fake baby milk scare in Johor Baru, some Singapore parents say they will continue to buy formula milk from Malaysia as the products are cheaper there.
This comes after nearly S$14,000 worth of fake milk products were seized after a toddler suffered severe vomiting from consuming the milk. Following the incident, Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority advised consumers to "exercise caution" when buying food overseas.
But even with the hassle of commuting, traffic jams and toll charges, some parents say the savings from bulk buying in Malaysia are worth the trips.
Rather than switch over to cheaper brands launched over the past year in response to rising prices, some parents say that their children need specialised milk or are already used to certain brands.
Lecturer Sarah Somarajan could not find affordable formula milk for her lactose-intolerant toddler, who often suffered from a bloated stomach before they found the right product.
“I was really at my wits' end because of his lactose intolerance and the milk powder was just so expensive,” said Ms Sarah.
When she first saw the formula milk they used at JUSCO supermarket in Tebrau City last year, Ms Sarah could not believe that they were priced about S$30 cheaper than in Singapore, where they usually go for about S$80.
“So I decided to buy 10 tins of Abbott Similac Comfort which is the milk my kid takes,” she said.
She returned twice to Johor Baru to stock up on baby milk, one of the many products she bought on shopping trips to one-stop malls like Giant, City Square and AEON Bukit Indah. She stopped buying the milk this year because her son no longer needs it.
Madam Ng, who has three children, told reporters that she did not consider cheaper brands as her three children, aged between six and 18 years old, consumed Abbott's Isomil throughout their growing years. Her youngest child still drinks the formula milk.
The 46-year-old paid RM73 (S$24.20) per tin in Malaysia, while it retailed for between S$48 and S$60 in Singapore.
“I do know that the news has reported that all formula milk are the same but we are used to the soy-based formula and we don’t want to switch,” said Madam Ng. She added that her sister, who is a Malaysian, continues to buy formula milk products from Giant for her own three children.
TAKING ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS
Parents reporters spoke to said they take additional steps to make sure the products are legitimate, especially when prices seem too good to be true.
One parent who goes by Ms Kaur, 37, said she even sent an email to the producer to verify the authenticity of products. Her child consumes Karihome Goat Milk, a brand from New Zealand.
“I sent them screenshots of the formula milk from Singapore and Malaysia and asked if there are any difference between the two,” said Ms Kaur.
“I also gave another photo of the nutrition information on the back and asked them whether this was authentic, whether it was made in New Zealand and whether this is the same Karihome that I am aware of.”
Madam Ng said she would visually examine the condition of the tins to make sure that there are no dents and that the aluminium seal has not been tempered with.
Additional security for the formula milk sold at shops and supermarkets also reassures parents who choose to buy in Malaysia.
Supermarkets such as JUSCO place a cashier at the baby milk product aisles and require customers to pay there to prevent theft.
“Because you make payment at the aisle before you go out and all these tin cans have security tags, it just looks very legit,” Ms Sarah said. She also looks for milk products in tins rather than packets because they look well-made.
"The fact that they put it behind lock and key at groceries stores like the one at City Square also entices me to believe that it's real," said Ms Kaur.
Despite her caution, Ms Kaur now has second thoughts after reading reports of the fake milk powder.
"I was quite shocked and my husband asked me for the receipt so he would like to head back there and ask for a refund. Although it's not fair to assume that all formula milk brands are doing the same ... I would still not like to take that chance for now," Ms Kaur said.
NOT ALL KIDS CAN TAKE CHEAPER BRANDS, PARENTS SAY
Over the past year, attempts have been made to temper prices of formula milk which have doubled over the last nine years to among one of the highest in the world.
In a market inquiry by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS), heavy investment into R&D and marketing costs have been blamed for the price increase.
Aside from price competition, CCS said that non-price competition have played a bigger role in the supply of formula milk. Findings from the market inquiry found that parents prefer established brands and prioritise brand name, nutrition and safety when they pay for formula milk.
A majority of parents also tended to continue with milk products that their babies are exposed to at birth in hospitals, where formula milk manufacturers have aggressively marketed to.
Wide-ranging measures from regulating advertisements to public awareness programmes were introduced by various government agencies and supermarkets to tackle the issue. In recent months, supermarkets have started stocking formula milk with affordable prices of between S$25 and S$40.
Brands that cost about or less than S$40 a tin have been launched in the last seven months, including made-in-Singapore milk powder Einmilk, Australia’s Own, Nature One Dairy, Blackmores, and FairPrice's housebrand formula milk.
In a response to reporters, Sheng Siong, which stocks Nature One Dairy, said, "For a new brand that is just introduced into the market, we are very pleased with its sales and we have been seeing returning customers for the products."
Still, some parents insist on shopping for baby products, including formula milk, in Malaysia.
"It was very frustrating because you know when you have a child and the child has certain issues, not every milk powder works," Ms Sarah said.