A FIERY debate over Australia’s baby formula stockpilers has resurfaced after new footage which shows an early-morning shopping frenzy at a Melbourne Woolworths.
The footage has sparked such a strong backlash, that a Woolies spokeswoman told news.com.au the supermarket is dropping its baby formula limit to two tins per customer from next week. Previously you could buy up to eight tins at a time.
Stunned shopper Ben Barak was just nipping into the Woolies branch at Chadstone Shopping Centre in the city’s southeast to pick up some early morning supplies when he noticed something strange was happening.
He just wanted to pick up some coriander and parsley to season his dinner when he returned from work later that day, but he almost gave up entirely when he went to pay for his herbs.
“I got to the shop at just before 8am that morning (Sunday) and there was nobody there,” he told news.com.au.
“But when I went to pay at the checkout about five or 10 minutes later, there was about 50 people lining up with boxes. They just came out of nowhere.
“There was a line from one end of the supermarket to the other full of people carrying boxes of baby formula.
“It was a bit of a shock and I thought: ‘I’m not waiting that long just to buy coriander’. I thought there was no point buying if it was going to take that long.”
However, an assistant noticed him wandering around the shop and took him to an express checkout — where he discovered the bizarre scenes were nothing out of the ordinary.
“I asked the cashier if there was some sort of offer on baby formula and she said: ‘No it happens every week and they come at the same time every time’.”
Mr Barak’s footage of the shoppers lining around the store has drawn ire from hundreds on social media, with some saying it is the largest amount of people they’ve ever seen queuing for the valuable product. Others said purchase limits were clearly not working.
“I had no idea it was this bad,” wrote one shocked commenter. “No wonder there are constantly desperate parents on the Facebook mum groups asking around if stores have any formula.”
“I feel bad for Australian parents,” added another.
Many said it was clear from the footage that Woolworths’ attempts to make buying the precious commodity were not working.
A Woolworths spokeswoman said its baby formula limit will revert to two tins per transaction from next week.
“We’ll closely monitor our on shelf availability and feedback from customers as we make this adjustment,” she said.
“We will communicate this limit to our store teams and ensure our customers are advised by displaying signs in our stores.”
In August, Woolworths increased its customer purchase limit from two to eight, after claiming to have improved the supply of formula.
The footage has surfaced after years of highly sought-after brands such as A2, Bellamy’s and Aptamil being stripped from shelves by “daigou”, or personal shoppers, who resell the products to customers in China at inflated prices.
Aussie stores have faced consistent complaints from angry parents about bulk-buying techniques — which have led to shoppers stripping shelves, filling trolleys and car boots and even scrapping in supermarket aisles to stock up on baby formula tins.
The often-dramatic incidents have regularly generated outrage on social media and, in the past 12 months, both Coles and Woolworths have taken action to try to prevent the practice.
Coles took action in July by enforcing purchase limits on the precious formula.
However, after seeing what happened in his local supermarket, Mr Barak believes the government needs to step in.
“The limits don’t really work because you can just go to another supermarket straight after or just come back two hours later.”