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The Cost of Infant Milks in the UK

THE COST OF INFANT MILKS IN THE UK

THE COST OF INFANT MILKS IN THE UK

A report published recently by the First Steps Nutrition Trust (FSNT) intends to set out the cost of infant milks in the UK. However, as the report itself acknowledges, it is based on a collection of anecdotal evidence and as such, it is not an accurate reflection of the current cost of infant formula.

The Cost of Infant Milks Marketed in the UK, published in May 2018, reviews a variety of popular brands available at high street retailers such as Boots, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.  Costs have been calculated per day or per week, based on a rounded cost per 100ml recalculated to the estimated daily or weekly volume based on estimated average intakes.

The report acknowledges that the costs provided in the report are based on estimates, and that “prices vary over time, scoop weight estimates and rounding and calculation methods may differ” and “that others may come up with slightly different product costs”. It fails to acknowledge consumer data collected by internationally renowned independent market research agencies that reflect what shoppers actually buy, which is a far more accurate source of information: no assumptions or estimates are needed.  The report also fails to consider parents’ chosen method of feeding.  No sources or references are provided for the estimated average intakes provided and it appears that the calculations do not take any consideration of the impact of partial or mixed feeding.  This will significantly impact the frequency with which any formula is used and therefore the actual cost involved. 

Choice of feeding method and individual patterns of use significantly impact actual spending on formula 

The use of formula does not remain static over the first year of an infant’s life.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed until six months of age, after which breastfeeding is complemented with the appropriate introduction of solid foods until two years of age and beyond.  However, some parents choose to feed their infant with formula, either exclusively or partially, during the first six months and/or afterwards.  As a result, the cost of formula used to feed an infant in any given month will depend on the method of feeding adopted and the frequency with which any formula is used.

The FSNT report has attempted to calculate the cost of infant formula by working out the average intake of an infant at several stages during the first year of life. This approach does not fully capture the way in which infants’ nutritional requirements change substantially as they grow and once solid food is introduced to their diet after they are six months old. Moreover, this approach does not reflect the fact that a significant number of infants are combination fed – that is, fed both breastmilk and infant formula. Any accurate review into the cost of feeding needs to recognise the fact that many parents are choosing to use both formula and breastmilk to feed their children.

On average consumers actually spend £7.00 per week on infant formula

The most reliable indicator of the cost of infant formula is what families actually put in their shopping baskets.  Robust data collected by Kantar Worldpanel  from 3,000 families with infants demonstrate that on average parents spend £7.00 per week on formula during their child’s first year of life.  Kantar Worldpanel is the independent global expert in shoppers’ behaviour, which monitors, collects and analyses consumers’ purchasing decisions and behaviour on an ongoing basis.  

There are many variables involved in the use and cost of infant formula as each parent and each child is different, but the Kantar data makes no assumptions as to the amount of formula an infant might or might not consume in any one day because it is based on actual purchases. Kantar Worldpanel data is publicly available, for a fee, and is used by companies and government organisations (e.g. Public Health England) alike.

Choice of feeding method and individual patterns of use significantly impact actual spending on formula 

The use of formula does not remain static over the first year of an infant’s life.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed until six months of age, after which breastfeeding is complemented with the appropriate introduction of solid foods until two years of age and beyond.  However, some parents choose to feed their infant with formula, either exclusively or partially, during the first six months and/or afterwards.  As a result, the cost of formula used to feed an infant in any given month will depend on the method of feeding adopted and the frequency with which any formula is used.

The FSNT report has attempted to calculate the cost of infant formula by working out the average intake of an infant at several stages during the first year of life. This approach does not fully capture the way in which infants’ nutritional requirements change substantially as they grow and once solid food is introduced to their diet after they are six months old. Moreover, this approach does not reflect the fact that a significant number of infants are combination fed – that is, fed both breastmilk and infant formula. Any accurate review into the cost of feeding needs to recognise the fact that many parents are choosing to use both formula and breastmilk to feed their children.

On average consumers actually spend £7.00 per week on infant formula

The most reliable indicator of the cost of infant formula is what families actually put in their shopping baskets.  Robust data collected by Kantar Worldpanel  from 3,000 families with infants demonstrate that on average parents spend £7.00 per week on formula during their child’s first year of life.  Kantar Worldpanel is the independent global expert in shoppers’ behaviour, which monitors, collects and analyses consumers’ purchasing decisions and behaviour on an ongoing basis.  

There are many variables involved in the use and cost of infant formula as each parent and each child is different, but the Kantar data makes no assumptions as to the amount of formula an infant might or might not consume in any one day because it is based on actual purchases. Kantar Worldpanel data is publicly available, for a fee, and is used by companies and government organisations (e.g. Public Health England) alike.

The report does not accurately reflect the way starter packs are used

Starter packs are packs containing 6 handy sized bottles of infant formula for use in the first hours after birth. 

Parents buy them for a number of reasons, including as a back-up in case the mother is unable to breastfeed. This is often done when the hospital has taken the decision not to provide infant formula. 

As the FSNT report itself says, starter packs are for “use in the days after birth”. The decision to publish the cost of using a starter pack for a whole week is not a reflection of current practice.

The FSNT report assumes both that parents use the starter pack exclusively for the first two weeks and that eight feeds are required each day. They have given no evidence to support these assumptions, and we believe it is highly unlikely that anyone would purchase their formula in this manner.

Indeed, the data shows that liquid formula accounts for a very small share of the market; approximately 10% from 2013-17. Although liquid may be a convenient alternative, parents overwhelmingly choose to use powdered formula to feed their infants.

The price of leading brands of infant formula recognises the cost of ongoing research and innovation 

Our members take their responsibilities very seriously, in particular those to produce the safest possible products and to continue to keep innovating and constantly improving their products. Market leading companies continue to invest in research and development for the benefits of nutritional advancement and once findings have been made public, often in peer-reviewed academic journals, they are available for other companies to draw upon. This is recognised in the cost of leading brands. 

The nature of the regulatory framework within which formula milk companies work is such that the regulations are not fixed, but change to reflect our growing knowledge of infant nutrition. However, these changes lag some time behind our scientific understanding and innovation (as might be expected).

One example of where innovation has led the regulation is the decision to include DHA (Omega 3) in the list of mandatory ingredients from February 2020 in the new Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127 on infant formula and follow-on formula. Clinical research conducted during the past 20 years or so has clearly demonstrated the benefits of DHA for non-breastfed infants; in fact, this is a clear example of where industry funding and collaboration with the healthcare profession has resulted in advancement of science and product innovation for the benefit of babies who are not ideally fed with their mother’s milk.

The FSNT report asserts that “some of the cheaper milks do not currently make claims through marketing and advertising and therefore families benefit when companies simply produce a product which meets regulations without making health claims.” However, this statement is inaccurate and misrepresents the situation.

Formula milks  are amongst the most strictly regulated of all foodstuffs (Regulation EU No 2016/127; EU Directive 2006/141/EC) and rightly so. Legislation incorporates the principles and aims of the WHO Code on Breastmilk Substitutes, and is strictly enforced.