Infant formula milk has come into the spotlight recently as the prices of premium formula milk products have risen 120% in the past 10 years in Singapore. The Government has set up a taskforce to look into this matter. I, too, have an interest in this subject as a new parent and I would like to share my thoughts in this article.
Causes of the rising prices
The Competition Commission of Singapore released a report and attributed the rising prices to increased research and development as well as marketing costs. I can understand that the marketing costs could be high because many brands compete for parents’ attention. Every now and then I do see a TV commercial regarding formula milk and its promised superhuman benefits.
However I disagree with the R&D argument. I don’t think R&D is done in every country, nor do the brands tailor the formula specially for the citizens.
R&D is usually conducted at the HQ and implemented worldwide using the same formula. In this case, why should R&D cost drive up Singapore’s formula milk prices specifically? Why are our milk powder more expensive than those sold in US, UK, Japan and Australia?
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The conspiracy theory is that Singapore parents are very kiasu and want the best for our kids. Moreover our purchasing power is high. This means that Singapore parents are willing and are able to pay for the most premium formula milk brands.
Yes, breast milk is best but…
World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages mothers to breast feed their children. Comparatively, breast feeding lacks the convenience of formula milk. While we were staying in the hospital post-delivery, the nurses emphasized the benefits of breast feeding and recommend my wife to do breastfeeding exclusively. The baby should latch directly instead of bottle feeding.
Positioning the baby is a challenge and it frustrates both the mother and the child if the suckle becomes too difficult. We end up buying a breast pump to express the milk and fed the baby with a bottle instead.
The challenge doesn’t stop there. Sometimes the baby wants milk but the mother doesn’t have enough for him. At other times, the milk has been expressed but the child wasn’t hungry. The milk will get stale if it was left for too long.
And I cannot imagine when the mother goes back to work, the inconvenience would worsen. And this is our Singapore lifestyle. Both parents are usually working and most mothers give in to convenience, which is to use formula milk. This gives rise to the dependence and demand for it.
Do babies really need premium milk?
Minister Josephine Teo wrote on her Facebook, “for my own journey, I concluded that milk is milk, however fancy the marketing. As long as AVA approves its import, the milk is good enough. I had no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale.”
I tried to use the Minister’s comment to influence my wife to buy the cheapest milk powder available. The premium formula milk currently cost us over $200 per month. I even showed her the difference in ingredients between the premium and the standard brands.
The only difference was about 50% less DHA but the rest of the ingredients were similar. The price was 62% cheaper.
I don’t believe DHA is so expensive. I highly suspect it is a mark up by the manufacturers.
It reminded me of the conspiracy theory of printers. Someone told me that all printers have the same capabilities but the manufacturers deliberately disable certain functions to make a model ‘lousier’ so they can charge premiums for the ‘superior’ ones.
I half succeeded. She didn’t want to compromise the baby’s nutrition in the crucial first 6 months. But we agreed to get both the premium and cheap brands, which we could alternate periodically.
We compared the key nutrients across 8 common infant formula brands using the numbers declared on their Nutrition Information list. All prices were recorded from NTUC (with exception of Einmilk which was only sold in selected U Star Supermarkets). Some brands came in 900g tins while others were sold in 800g / 850g tins. We took the price per 100g divided by the amount of nutrients per 100g and compiled this:
Most Valued-for-Money Infant Formula by Key Nutrients
Orange numbers: the best brand for a particular nutrient.
Larger Fonts: The 2nd and 3rd brand for that nutrient.
(Click on image to view at full size)
Do note: The information compiled in this article is only for reference (full disclaimer below)
Where to buy cheaper formula milk?
Most parents would get the formula milk from supermarkets. The prices are pretty standard among the various outlets.
We learned that some traditional Chinese medicine halls are willing to sell at cheaper prices. It was true as we got the same tin for about 10% discount from the market rate.
We also understand the same brands are significantly cheaper across the border in Malaysia. But it isn’t convenient at all and some parents do not trust the source of these formula milk. My wife was checking out the prices in Australia and was even contemplating to order in bulk and ship to Singapore. It might still be cheaper after including the shipping fees.
Do you have any tips for fellow Singapore parents to save money on formula milk? Please share!
The information compiled in this article is only for reference. Breast milk is the best for babies. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Unnecessary introduction of bottle feeding or other food and drinks will have a negative impact on breastfeeding. After six months of age, infants should receive age-appropriate foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Consult your doctor before deciding to use infant formula or if you have difficulty breastfeeding.