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Footage Reveals Baby Formula Bulk-Bought In Australia And Sold To China Via Tobacconist

Footage taken at a Sydney shopping strip shows how bulk-purchased baby formula is making its way to China -- through a local tobacconist.

The vision, obtained by 10 daily, shows men with Coles shopping bags passing over the baby formula to a store worker at FreeChoice tobacconist in northern Sydney.

"They had men just walking in and out, dropping off Coles bags full of baby formula," a witness told 10 daily.

The footage also shows countless boxes of goods, including tins of formula, on the premise being boxed up.

The man, who does not wish to be named, filmed the group as they were "hoarding baby formula and packing them inside the store."

"I called them [the store] after, and prompted them as to why they were buying so much baby formula. They were surprised and after a few seconds just simply said 'we run a website and sell it'," he said.

The tobacconist confirmed to 10 daily it runs a website, and sells direct to China, at a premium.

While it has been more than a decade since China's 2008 contaminated milk scandal -- which killed six infants and made hundreds of thousands sick --the country's demand for baby formula made overseas remains. 

For example, while Aptamil Gold Stage 1 sells for $24.80 at Coles, it is sold to Chinese shoppers on this website for $30.50 plus shipping. For A2 Premium Stage 2, the local cost is $37 and it is re-sold for $52. That is a profit of between 20 and 30 percent per tin of formula.

Image: SayHi website

The tobacconist was reported to NSW Police and the video shown to officers, but the matter was not pursued.

"Bulk buying is not a crime but restrictions are put in place by supermarkets," NSW Police told 10 daily.

The spokesman said police would be willing to assist the Commonwealth on issues of exporting if requested.

Major Australian supermarkets currently have purchasing limits of four tins per transaction, but appear helpless to stop the highly sought after formula flying off their shelves.

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Images have emerged of groups of shoppers appearing to stockpile baby formula from Sydney supermarkets, despite limits placed on products to avoid hoarding.

A Coles spokesperson said in almost all cases, there will be more stock out the back and encouraged customers to ask staff for assistance.

On Friday at a Woolworths in Sydney's south, a woman videoed a group of shoppers making repeat purchases of baby formula.

"They would line up at the counter which it is kept behind to prevent people from overbuying, purchase the four maximum per transaction, put it in their trolley literally just outside the register (not even outside the store) and then walk back through the isle and line up again," she said.

Natalie, who said she worked in childcare, claimed staff did not attempt to stop the group, but noted it was "extremely disappointing".

“The reason I took the video is because I see childcare centres struggling and sharing formula as well as toilet paper and gloves so they can provide care for babies and children,” she told 10 daily at the time.

The a2 Milk Company's Asia Pacific CEO Peter Nathan says strong demand for its products has continued during the COVID-19 crisis.

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China's booming demand for Australian baby formula is "good for our country", the industry said, as manufacturers push back against constant media coverage alleging that foreigners are gobbling up local supplies.

But he reassured families supply is not an issue.

"Consequently, we have an on-line delivery process that guarantees that we will deliver to any Australian mum or dad within 24 to 48 hours if our product is not available at the retail store where they shop," he told 10 daily.

A spokesman for Danone Nutricia, the producer of Aptamil baby formula, said the company had also seen a spike in demand over the coronavirus pandemic, but had increased the level of supply to retail customers in response.

"We also encourage retailers to impose and enforce purchasing limits, which are particularly important during periods of high demand," they said.

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Both a2 and Aptamil confirmed the website being run by the tobacconist is not an official distributor of the a2 milk Company.

The tobacconist is a franchisee of FreeChoice.

The head office was contacted about a Chinese export company being operated on the premises, but did not provide comment.

Australian Border Force has also been contacted for comment.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au