Why are retailers rationing baby milk?

Powdered baby milk can bring a premium in China. Photo: PA/PA Wire

Supermarkets and high street chemists are rationing baby milk powder to two cans per customer. This is happening at the request of manufacturers. It is my understanding that organised groups have been buying trolley loads of the formula milk - gathering it together and exporting it to China.

Only two tubs per person - rationing baby milk. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA

There the milk can sell at a premium price - tubs are reported to have been changing hands for the equivalent of £20 a time in China. The reason for all this is that in China there is a huge demand for imported baby milk - because their own supplies have been caught up in a series of contamination scandals. Fears about the reliability of China's home-grown baby milk set in six years ago when supplies containing melamine killed six babies and made 300,00 ill. As recently as last month even more contamination as found in far eastern supplies. Now the affluent Chinese middle class is willing to pay a premium for imports - rather than take any chances.

Rationing baby milk. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

By imposing the rationing UK retailers are aiming to ensure constant supplies and the retailers stress this is only a temporary measure Many of the outlets I have spoken to this morning say they have encountered this phenomenon of people trying to buy unusually high quantities. Among the big retailers who have confirmed they are now imposing the limits are Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons - as well as high street chemists. They are confident that by acting as they have - there will be no shortages and they stress there is at present no shortage. Nevertheless, the demand in China is huge.

Here is what the big stores told me today:

Retailers are limiting the amount of baby milk that can be bought by any one person to two units per customer at the request of the manufacturer.

– Tesco

To maintain availability for all of our customers, we have a limit of two items of formula milk powder per customer per day.

– Morrisons

As a short term measure retailers, including Sainsbury’s, are limiting the amount of baby milk powder that people can buy. In this way we aim to ensure a constant supply for our customers and we therefore hope they won’t be inconvenienced.

– Sainsbury's