Before I left for China, two of my close friends, both of whom have very young babies, asked me to bring baby milk powder from the UK because they did not want to take a risk by giving their babies milk powder that has been manufactured in mainland China (even if the manufacturer is a multinational company). Hence I automatically became an honorary 'Baby Milk Tourist' where a 1/3 of my luggage consisted of baby milk powder!!.
In fact the term 'Baby Milk Tourism' is used for Middle Class Chinese parents who are willing to spend money to travel overseas to buy baby milk powder, or import baby milk from overseas. This is in spite of Western supermarkets on the mainland trying their best to build trust by putting up notices to reassure consumers that their milk powder is safe and of a high quality. You only realize how big a news this is once you are in the mainland, and it's very common to see many mainland Chinese people crossing the Hong Kong or Macau borders with tins of baby milk powder in large numbers.
Mistrust of baby milk powder is high in China after the death of several babies due to tainted milk powder being sold. Demand for foreign formula has remained high since six infant deaths, and an estimated 290,000 children fell ill in 2008 from tainted local Chinese products. Reports are rife of Chinese baby milk tourists emptying supermarket shelves in Western countries to meet a perceived shortfall of safe formula in China. In the UK most supermarkets put up a ration of maximum 2 cans of baby milk powder being sold*.
It's got to a stage where people have realized the long term profitable business potential of importing baby milk powder into China. For example, I was shown one Chinese website that promises to deliver baby milk powder cans to Chinese consumers for a price of around RMB 500 (approx. 82 USD) per can which includes all postage and insurance. To put things in prospective, normally a can of baby powder milk (as shown in photos below) costs around RMB 90 (approx. 15 USD) in most European countries, so you can see that this has become a business opportunity for many.
* Source: BBC News
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