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Chinese Buyers Put Squeeze on Australian Baby Food Supplies

Two-hour old daughter of 17-year old Nakor is fed by a nurse at a hospital in Chiang Mai's Fang district October 2, 2012.
A surge in demand has forced supermarkets and chemists in Australia to ration sales of a popular brand of baby formula as Chinese customers try to buy in bulk. Many shops are running low on supplies of Karicare following a surge in demand.

Pharmacists say Chinese migrants and tourists are desperate to buy the infant food following a milk safety scandal that killed six children in China in 2008.

Some retailers in Australia are limiting the number of Karicare tins that customers can buy as supplies in parts of the country dry up.

A spike in sales is in large part because of Chinese migrants in Australia and tourists, who have been stockpiling the popular baby formula to send home or to sell online.

Pharmacists in Sydney say that some visitors have often bought as many containers as they can cram into their luggage to take back to China.

Sarah Rooes, a retail manager with a city center chemist, says there has been strong demand among her Chinese customers.

“They’ll come in and they’ll buy a whole heap of them. I think they just buy bulk for family and that sort of stuff, and to send overseas and that sort of thing. They do get frustrated. Like, before what we used to do, we’d do customer orders for it," Rooes said. "But, now we are unable to order. All I can say to them is, look, just keep coming in every week, keep trying, see how you go, like, we may get some more stock in.”

Many Chinese people are suspicious of domestically produced baby formula following a poisoning scandal in 2008. Six children died and 300,000 others fell ill after drinking supplies tainted with an industrial chemical.

The tragedy has had a lasting effect with many parents in China seeking formula overseas.

The supplier of Karicare says that demand in Asia for Australian and New Zealand baby products had risen sharply since China’s food scare.

The company says it is hoping to increase production by 50 percent in the next year.

Australia does not import infant formula products from China because of strict quarantine regulations, but trade going the other way is likely to increase as Asia’s booming middle classes look abroad for reliable and safe supplies for their children.