Saturday, September 02, 2017

Milk formula : a real necessity or a result of marketing

Recently we had a gathering with friends in our place. I told some of them how parents attitude were so different between Malaysia and France regarding milk powder. At the end of the conversation, I told them that my kid has refused drinking milk before turning three, and I still had some milk powder left. When they left, one friend took the two tins of milk powder, saying that she would feed her kids with them. If they become sick, she would stop. These powder were already opened and on the tin it stated that it would be preferable to finish the powder within a month. This friend is a doctor.

These conversations just brought back my observations about how crazy the parents were in Malaysia regarding the quality of milk powder. They are willing to pay exorbitant price for a tin of milk powder. They believe that kids should continue drinking milk everyday until around 10 years old.

Several years ago I went back to Malaysia with my eldest daughter with a tin of Nestle Nidal. It didn't last for two weeks so I went to shop for Malaysian milk powder. I was so surprised to discover the price. A tin of PediaSure, weighted 900g, costed around RM50, wherease Nestle Nidal costed around 12€ at that time. So they were almost the same price as exchange rate was 1€ to RM4.4. But considering the minimum wage was around RM900 vs 1000€, the milk powder in Malaysia costed almost 5 times more than in France. And, low income group did not hesitate to buy expensive milk powder for their kids as it was considered necessary to help kids grow. I didn't believe at all that expensive milk powder could provide better nutrient, so I went for a cheaper brand. And last time I went back, the PediaSure milk powder has surged to RM90 per tin due to weak RM against USD.

When comparing the ingredients between the two brands of milk powder, I didn't see much different. Yet Malaysians were so crazy about the US imported milk powder.

They were huge price range in Malaysia for these products, it could go from RM20 a tin to RM100. These were not the case in France, milk powder was usually between 10€ to 20€.

Even organic milk powder didn't cost as much as those in Malaysia.

The milk powder companies were not allowed to advertise in maternity wards. So parents choose one according to their preference. I chose Nestle because it was the only brand I knew, and luckily both my kids accepted it without problem. I had heard that some parents had to change several brands as their kids refused to drink certain brand.

Milk powder is a necessity for babies so it has huge market potential in every country. In China, due to the one child (now two) policy, parents fight to provide the best milk to their kids. Due to the scandal that put down their own local milk powder producers, most of the Chinese parents buy their supplies from overseas. I have known of several Chinese friends here working part time as resale, they buy milk powder in French supermarkets and send to Chinese customers in Mainland China. Hong Kongese were mad at their Chinese counterparts as they smuggled the milk formula from the shells while visiting, leaving the local mothers facing the shortage of milk formula.

My mother had asked me several times how could we afford to let go of milk for our kids. I always explained that in French healthbook for kids, kids need dairy products which could be obtained not only from milk, but cheese, yogurts... so milk formula was not compulsory after they turn one or two year old. However, France had had the period where milk was forced into every household, and the real reason behind was that the milk industry was producing too much milk so their lobbyists influenced the government to force the milk consumption. 

Now I wonder, is the consumption of expensive milk formula in Asian countries, partly, or largely contributed by the excessive advertising and marketing campaigns in the that region?


  1. I can testify to the craziness of foreign baby formula in China : when we went there in 2014, Mark wasn't two yet and he was still drinking a few bottles a day. My in-laws brought Canadian Nestle formula, it felt like we were importing gold!

    In many countries around the world, formula is kept under lock and key in pharmacies and it's expensive. I saw that in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

    I think past the baby stage, French do consume enough dairy products in general through yogurts, cheese, etc. I don't see why kids should keep on drinking formula... it's really made for when they can't eat other foods well yet.

  2. wow drinking powder milk up to 10 years? In Canada, they give up powder milk at 1 yr old and switch to regular fresh milk. In France, they say up to 3 years old. I tried to switch to regular milk with my daughter at 2 but she didn't like the UHT milk in France. I found fresh milk in super market, 1 euro per bottle and organic at 1.50 euros. So glad she is enjoying regular milk now. Those tins costed me a fortune, 16 euros per week (organic). When visiting Canada, prices vary from 20 to 30$.

    Maybe in Asia they don't have easy access to fresh milk. But I agree, marketing is at fault for making people believing that this is a necessity. Also, I'm pretty sure that this has to do with wanting taller children! lol