Australian supermarkets and pharmacies are running out of a popular baby formula amid a sales spike blamed on mainland customers trying to secure supplies.
The news comes as no surprise to local retailers, since surging cross-border demand has already seen a quota imposed on each buyer.
Nutricia, which supplies the top- selling formula brand Karicare in Australia, reported a sudden surge in demand for its products that has seen stocks plummet and left shelves empty.
Australian supermarket chain Coles said it is trying to arrange extra shipments of formula, while some pharmacies are rationing sales across brands to a few cans per customer.
Media reports in Australia said Chinese residents or tourists are buying formula in bulk and shipping it home for their families or for online sale.
British online food stores also saw a massive surge in demand in China for baby milk in September.
Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman Lau Oi-kwok said local outlets only allow one or two cans of baby formula per customer since the 2008 tainted milk scandal saw thousands of worried mainland mothers turn to imported baby milk powder in stores here. "It [the Australian report] is not surprising at all. For mainland mothers, only foreign brands are trustworthy enough to be fed to their babies," he said.
The SAR saw its worst formula shortage in December 2010, when mainlanders bought large amounts to stockpile.
The shortage led angry local parents to push for the introduction of a baby milk powder departure tax.
Retailers responded by imposing quotas on formula sales.
"Pharmacies only allow buyers to have one or two cans per transaction. Such measures are even stricter in northern districts near the border like Sheung Shui," Lau said.
A spokeswoman for ParknShop and Watsons said their policy states each customer can only buy four cans of infant formula per purchase.
Wellcome has the same four-can restriction, a spokesman said.
Formula maker Mead Johnson said demand from mainland families, which spiked during Christmas, "continues to grow and supplies remain fairly tight."
Both Wyeth Nutrition and Friso advised local mothers to call their service hotlines so as to secure reliable supplies.
In 2008, six mainland children died and 300,000 fell ill after dairies added the industrial chemical melamine to milk to boost protein content readings.