Got Milk? You Must Be A Shopper From The Mainland

Dutch milk

Mothers in Hong Kong have been complaining (again) that they can’t get sufficient milk powder for their babies because mainland shoppers are buying the powder in bulk.

According to the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong government, last year the city imported more than 37,900,000 kg of baby milk powder. The government has already increased the import by more than 30% in recent months, but sadly that amount of milk powder can’t satisfy the increasing demand from mainland shoppers.

Thanks to the sharp increase in demand, the price of milk powder has risen about 10-15% in Hong Kong. But even if you have the money, you have to compete with the Chinese shoppers who, instead of doing the hard work themselves, hire local elderly people and housewives to queue outside supermarkets and retail shops to wait for new supplies. Rate? HK$20 per can, according to a local newspaper. And the Chinese shoppers then resell the milk powder back on the mainland. Brilliant.

Hong Kong isn’t the only place where this is happening. Media in the Netherlands and Germany also report that Chinese people sweep supplies of milk powder from shop shelves, triggering countrywide shortage.

The backlash has been predictable. We know that food safety in China is rubbish, but please, people say, don’t try to solve your problems by robbing other people’s resources and causing unnecessary global panic.

    19 Responses to “Got Milk? You Must Be A Shopper From The Mainland”

    1. TGT G

      Excuse me…I am a Chinese Mainlander. I never bought milk formula from HK. But I cannot stay silent about your opinion.
      Firstly the mainlanders buy the milk formula with real MONEY! We don’t ROB the shelves.
      Secondly, there are many individuals buying the milk powder just for their own babies. (They are not the ones that buy in bulk and resell for a profit). If it were you, you would do the same thing to protect your own baby, in this case, is to buy some safe milk powder for your baby.
      Thirdly, even for those people who buy in bulk and resell, I don’t see why you are condemning them cuz “buying in cheap and reselling higher price is everywhere in the free market”-That’s how people make money. Thing is, there is a demand in the buying market, this business people just provide to meet the demands and at the same time making some money out of it. Good for you being so least-interest-oriented. But the merchandisers are less ethical that’s all. But the key is not to ridicule these people but to urge regulations to be be put in force. Also, why is there a demand in mainland? I will get to that when wrapping up my rebuttals.
      Lastly, although I never bought milk formula from HK, I’ve seen people do it all the time. And I can guarantee you that it is not fun carrying such heavy stuff and get stuck in the check point for hours, not to mention being looked at by distaining eyes all the meanwhile. I beg you to put your feet in their shoes and do not for a second think the mainlanders enjoy it, at all! (Perhaps the “semi-smuggler” enjoy making money out of it but that’s all). And back to the point earlier why there is such demand in mainland for the semi-smuggler to take advantage of in the first place? It is because we mainlanders cannot even have access to some safe food for their beloved babies! Yea that’s pathetic.
      No offense to your opinion. I work in an international company with a mix of some HK people and mainlanders, and sometimes even some close HK coworkers of mine think of the mainlanders as the way portrayed in your well-written article. That makes me feel upset.

    2. SeaHorse

      Have to agree with the above. Fair game. This is why Apple doesn’t let you buy more than one iPhone.

      Milk powder generally lasts for months so it’s good to stock up on it in case of emergency or if you have a baby which makes it inconvenient to go out every week to get milk (especially if you live somewhere horrible). Further more things from Hong Kong and Taiwan are perceived as safer. So there are probably a lot of people in China with babies (I know it’s crazy, but people love babies), want the ease of milk powder, but is unsatisfied with the food safety of the mainland and would pay crazy amounts of money to make sure their little pumpkin-boo gets his precious nutritious food.

      Personally I can’t drink that rubbish I’d rather just not drink milk at all if I had to drink the powdered crap and I can’t believe even adults on the mainland would put that in their mouths. However I don’t really find anything actually legally wrong with this situation unless cans are marked specifically with ‘not for individual resell.’ Last time I checked, buying cheap selling dear is called running a business. Hong Kong has been traditionally a trade port, you’d think they’d understand the concept.

    3. Laoshu

      Buy the crap at HOME. Yes you pay with “real money” but that nots the point. GET YOUR HOUSE in order and clean your dirty business up.

      • Fred

        Nothing wrong with buying it from another market. You can always just increase the price and make more money from it. Lemme see if I get this straight. You’re upset that people are throwing money at your economy and buying things? This is like the dumbest thing ever to be upset about. You don’t manufacture it there anyways, you import it from somewhere else. Maybe import more?

        • RhZ

          But the Chinese consumers get screwed with high prices, inconvenience and fake goods. All because the Chinese government is bollox. That’s the important point.

          Why should HK people have to bear the brunt of the governance mess in China? And why should Chinese consumers have domestic unsafe goods AND high tariffs on safe foreign imports?

          So who wins here? Well, we know who always wins, and that’s the gov’t and the SOEs. Too bad they benefit by poisoning their own people…

    4. Ick

      The more pertinant question is; why are inviduals making these purchases? There is patently some form of (mainland) govermental restiction regarding the import of powdered milk products, otherwise the wholesalers who simply import and sell more.

    5. Beijing123

      It is not only Chinese people “robbing shelves” overseas: The drug store in my mum’s hometown in Europe stocks only 3 packets of a certain milkpowder. So on Tuesday afternoon (delivery day) my mum will go there and buy all three of them, same the next Tuesday and only 2 packets on the third Tuesday. Why only two? By then she has got 8 packets, 8*600g = 4.8kg, just under 5kg so shipping will be cheaper. She will send these to us in Beijing for her Grandson.
      And you know what we still save money:
      One box of this milk powder in China is CNY258: 8*258= CNY 2064
      In Europe: 8*EUR 9.99= EUR 79.92 + EUR 40 shipping = EUR 159.92 ~ CNY 1330
      So we save CNY 700 and are sure that the milk powder is genuine.
      BTW: I now mail order the milk powder and send it to my mum, but guess what: It is out of stock quite often ;-)

    6. snoopfrog

      i think the last line of this article kind of defeats the whole piece. if you consider you have been robbed because someone else outbid you on something then you have an issue understanding basic economics.

      there are 3 reasons why this problem exists as I see it:
      1. simple arbitrage: as one of the commenter pointed out, distributors of many products in chinese retail operations are overcharging for everything from milk to iphones to whatever else. so if it is cheaper to actually take the trouble to go and buy or have something mailed from another place than buying it locally then people will do it. this si also why we have things like medical tourism. this is also why people from HK have invested in China because they thought it was in part more affordable and could get a better return on investment.
      2. either the continued lack of efficient food safety controls or at the very least the lasting impact of past food scandals on China’s psyche
      3. the one child policy! as sea horse pointed out, there are people who lover their kids. i dare to go further and say that very few people don’t. but i think that what we have in a society where there is only one child, is a situation where fears and hopes are multiplied because of the fact that there are far less economic restraints. if you had 3, 4 or 5 kids then the cost – benefit analysis would be a bit different. people would perhaps look at things differently and think that maybe milk bought in china made by nestle or the like is actually ok.

      lastly and another issue is that maybe the solution is for people to follow doctors advice. Breast feeding is best and healthiest. in chinese hospitals, milk powder is actually forbidden except if a doctor has authorized it. there are several reasons for this including probably nutritional ones but i think the biggest unspoken reason and one which should make everyone pause is water quality. you can have the best milk powder but if you mix it with water that is not great then it sorts of defeats the point.

    7. Dawei

      Its a very simple equation. Extremely poor implementation of required regulation led to enterprising individuals adding a highly toxic compound to their milk to fake the protein test that milk processing companies do. Result death and disablement of babies.

      This coupled with all the other food scandals and a crumbling faith in anything the Gov does or say regarding the environment and public health mixed in with a dash of new parent angest over their little cerub leads to a huge demand for “trusted” imported milk.

      The Chinese Gov impose heavy import taxes on goods they see as luxuries or challenge their home industries. Milk powder is on the list. Thus high domestic prices for imported milk and the rush to buy overseas.

      The reason everyone gets so angry about all of this is that what is an internal problem is now being exported to other regions. As HK is the closest and easiest to access we are feeling the brunt of this desparate demand.

      The real kicker here is while the Chinese Goverment has not done much to allie the publics trust in food saftey they have also not reduce duty on Milk imports thus denying their population a safe alternative for their kids and an afordable price.

      BTW most HK people here don’t want swarms of mainlanders either buying milk or luxury hand bags. They clog up the limited infrastructure here and the benefit is accrued mainly to the landlords. We had over 20 million visitors from the mainland last year, our population is 7 million, last year the entire USA has around 44 million visitors. Go figure.

      Oh and TGT, yep you never bought milk powder here but you live here, QED you don’t have kids. The issue here is not that anyone wants to deny mainlanders their right to spend “real” money. (Is the RMB real money the current account is closed?) Its the fact that their spending is having an unwelcome social cost to the majority and a welcome benefit to the elite capital owners.

      • Fred

        So maybe instead of complaining about it, and then at the same time complaining about having no money… you could just get into business yourself and make some easy money? Crazy shit, I know.

    8. Mat Ryan

      These Mainland robber locusts also exist in New Zealand and Australia, and have been well- documented.

      ” It is because we mainlanders cannot even have access to some safe food for their beloved babies! Yea that’s pathetic.”

      No, whats pathetic is that you have let it go on for so long and its not getting better. Do something about it for fuuks sakes!

    9. Chackie Jan

      “The backlash has been predictable. We know that food safety in China is rubbish, but please, people say, don’t try to solve your problems by robbing other people’s resources and causing unnecessary global panic.”

      I lol’d at this. Absolutely ridiculous. Yes, the Chinese are plundering worldwide baby food resources, but who wouldn’t if it’s your kid’s life at stake. The solution is very simple; the USA should start producing trillions of dollars worth of milk powder, which it can then sell to China, so the trade deficit disappears.

      Alternatively Chinese domestic producers could take their heads out of their asses and focus on a little thing called quality. On top of that Chinese officials could take their dongs out of their mistresses wongs and actually enforce food safety regulations. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.

      If I were a Chinese investor now, I’d pump big bucks in a Dutch/German baby powder conglomerate such as Nutricia/Friso. There will always be babies and concerned parents, and the only investment question you have to ask yourself is; will China get their domestic milk not only clean by nature but also clean by reputation? I don’t see that happening in the next 10 years.

    10. Hillary Swank

      I’m confused….don’t women make milk? The term “safe milk powder” doesn’t make you laugh? Give me a break…if you can’t buy the crap off the shelves that your child shouldn’t be consuming anyway then suck it up and do what nature intended you to.

    11. wafflestomp

      It’s common knowledge Chinese people are not welcome anywhere. At all. Locusts.

      For those of you arguing free market blah blah blah, how is it any different from the “free market” of hospital beds for women?

      • Big Pile O' Fragrant Roses

        Or you can argue that local taxes pay for hospitals, so you have two different fees. Local people pay normal fees for hospital beds, foreign locusts pay double or triple. This way they can’t abuse resources paid for by and meant for locals.

    12. Six

      Why don’t people just breastfeed? Isnt that the purpose of those two little (usually little that is) balloons growing out of a women’s chest?

      Whats the big deal?

      But I agree that this is an example of the mainland exporting a problem to a better organized better governed region.

      Hey Hong Kongers, hows that 1 country 2 systems thing working for you lol


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