Customer abuses staff over baby-milk limit

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 01/08/2012

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A Petone supermarket employee was abused for refusing to sell multiple cans of baby formula to a customer as demand booms for exporting the Kiwi-made product to China.

Both Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises have imposed limits on sales of cans of infant formula in an attempt to protect local supply.

Ads recently appeared in a Wellington-based Chinese-language newspaper offering $10 "to help us buy" six cans of Karicare baby formula. "It must be paid for in cash, keep the receipt, and be the original product," the ad said.

Foodstuffs spokeswoman Antoinette Shallue said the supply of baby formula, in particular Karicare Gold, was a constant challenge for many stores, "as there is an unprecedented demand from China for product from a proven reputable retailer".

On Sunday a customer abused a Chinese checkout operator and a supervisor at Petone Pak 'n Save after being told they could not buy multiple cans of baby formula. Security was eventually called to remove them from the store.

The incident went viral on a New Zealand-based Chinese-language internet forum after the disgruntled customer posted a message venting their anger.

"He's really got some problem. Because no-one else has cared but only this guy," the post said.

Yesterday, Feng Jiang, who posted the message, said he was not buying for commercial gain.

He was planning to send two of the four cans to family in China. "I think it's a very unfair rule."

Ms Shallue said the adverts for baby formula buyers were a concern. "This . . . is expressly advertising for people to systematically go around our stores and strip the shelves of product with the sole purpose of exporting it overseas.

"As you can imagine, this creates a challenge for our stores who are working hard to ensure supply is maintained," she said. "The only way we can hope to keep Karicare baby formula on the shelves for New Zealand mothers and babies is to have strict purchase limits."

A can of Karicare baby formula sells for between $18.50 and $29 at Petone Pak 'n Save.

A six-can box of New Zealand baby formula sells for between $200 and $300 on Chinese internet sites, depending on the brand.

This is much dearer than in Chinese supermarkets. However, -- some Chinese consumers prefer the Kiwi brand, especially after the SanLu tainted baby milk scandal of 2008. At least six children in China died after milk powder was laced with melamine.

A Primary Industries Ministry spokesman said any food for export must come from an approved operator. "MPI has . . . been monitoring whether procedures associated with the export of products such as infant formula are being followed, and . . . follows up where we identify any issues of concern. We welcome information of any such exporters and will factor this information into our . . . work."

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- The Dominion Post

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