News Children's Food Campaign

Retailers start to cut the cost of infant formula

Infant formula prices have rocketed during recent months, with retailers and brands facing accusations of ‘Greedflation.’ Five retailers have now pledged to cut the costs. Children's Food Campaign responds. 

A pregnant woman looks at baby formula in a supermarket. Credit: MVelishchuk: Shutterstock

A pregnant woman looks at baby formula in a supermarket. Credit: MVelishchuk: Shutterstock

Last week Danone announced a 7% reduction in prices for their Aptamil formula milk products. This decision was prompted by an investigation conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority, revealing that infant formula brands maintained high profits despite the ongoing cost of living crisis. According to First Steps Nutrition Trust, over the past two years, infant formula prices have surged by more than 25% and just two suppliers account for 85% of infant formula sales. In response to Danone’s reduction in prices, Iceland took the lead as the first supermarket to announce that they would pass on cost savings to customers, and this week, four other prominent retailers—Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s—have also followed suit. 

Colette Marr, Children’s Food Campaign research adviser says: 

"In the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, it is great to see retailers start to reverse recent cost rises. Nonetheless, the persistently high prices of infant formula highlight the need for more comprehensive government intervention to support parents to provide for their babies, including ensuring the value of Healthy Start vouchers is sufficient to enable families to afford infant formula if they need it.” 

Last year, Sustain, in collaboration with the Food Foundation and other organisations, urged the government to improve the Healthy Start Scheme, designed to assist pregnant women and parents of young children in purchasing essential items such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, milk, first infant formula, and vitamins. As part of this, we called for an increase in the value of Healthy Start to match inflation, guaranteeing comprehensive coverage of expenses such as infant formula. Research by our partner The Food Foundation in mid-2023 revealed the value of the vouchers did not meet the inflated prices of any first stage formula.  Even after this initial price reduction, Healthy Start vouchers are valued at £8.50 per week for babies up to 1 year old, which remains insufficient to cover the expenses of formula.  Sustain and the Food Foundation jointly co-ordinated a call from 148 health bodies to Public Health minister Andrea Leadsom MP calling for the Healthy Start scheme to be permanently extended to migrant families with no recourse to public funds 

The government could also implement further measures to assist parents facing high prices of infant formula, including the enforcement of a price cap on infant formula milk to ensure sustained affordability. Additionally, launching a public health messaging campaign could enhance parental awareness regarding the nutritional equivalence of all first infant formula milks, irrespective of the brand. However, we are also urging the Government to enforce restrictions on the marketing of formula milks, to protect parents of babies and toddlers from irresponsible and often misleading marketing that undermines breastfeeding practices and potentially contributes to unnecessary or unsafe use of formula products. 

Dr Vicky Sibson, Director of First Steps Nutrition Trust, said:

“It is often the case that families least able to afford formula are the most likely to need it but, tragically, it is a really expensive food whose price has been sky rocketing while companies protect large profit margins.

“That infant formula may simply be unaffordable for some families with babies is deeply concerning, as some of the coping strategies they feel forced to use may harm their baby’s health. Given that all first infant formulas are, by law, nutritionally comparable, there is absolutely no excuse for the very wide range in prices between different products.

We welcome further investigations by the CMA in to infant formula marketing, but also urge the Government to take immediate action to support families to feed their babies, including fixing the Healthy Start scheme and instituting pricing policies and practices to effectively cap infant formula prices.”

More information about recommendations to improve Healthy Start, check out our position paper here.

For more information about infant formula pricing plus further nutritional guidance on infant feeding, take a look at the website of Sustain member First Steps Nutrition Trust.

Published Tuesday 16 January 2024

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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