Rebecca Anderson, 37, knows how it feels to be on the sharp end of baby formula price rises. A civil servant and lone parent in Middlesbrough, Anderson has noticed the price tag on the formula she feeds her 10-month-old son has been rising since he was born, reaching £13.50 in Tesco and Morrisons. According to the price comparison site Which?, the retail price of HiPP Organic 1 First Milk Powder (800g) rose by 12.9% in the year to May 2023.
Anderson spoke to the Guardian about her experience as a new parent who is reliant on formula, after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Wednesday revealed manufacturers had hiked their prices by more than their costs during the inflation crisis. Parents have been hit with an average 25% increase in two years.
To make matters worse, Anderson had an emergency caesarean delivery and was unable to drive the 3 miles to her nearest large supermarket for the first six weeks, so she was forced to rely on her local supermarket, where she says it was more than £17.
“I thought this was terrible. In an emergency, when you can’t drive after having a C-section and being a lone parent with a milk supply that did not come through, I only had the option to formula feed. You have to pay the extortionate prices.”
Having now introduced some solid foods, her son only needs a tub and a half of the 800g formula each week, down from two tubs.
“I was in such shock that they were allowed to do that … I know stuff is a bit more expensive in the [smaller supermarkets] but it’s extortionate. It’s hitting those who most need it and are in a bind.”
Anderson said she would continue feeding her son the first infant formula for another two months, alongside solid foods, before moving on to cow’s milk, following NHS guidelines for one-year-olds. As well as her shock at price rises, she said she felt frustrated that policy prohibits retailers from including first infant formula in price promotions. “I get ‘Breast is best’ but I couldn’t do that. Because of health complications, my milk didn’t come through … I find it insane that they think people would choose to spend £100 a month to feed a baby. The guidelines in place treat formula as if it’s tobacco – I don’t understand why I can’t use points on formula.
“I do feel like people are being penalised. It hasn’t affected my baby in any way … You get that shame that you can’t do it, and then are made to feel even worse because prices are high.”
As Anderson was unable to shop around when her son was first born she began by feeding him another, slightly cheaper brand, but he had a bad reaction to it. “I went for cheaper formula to start off with but he was constipated and had lots of reflux,” she said. “I changed to the brand I use because it helped his tummy.”
Baby milk is tightly regulated in the UK, so there is very little difference in the nutritional value between one brand and another. Unicef UK’s guide for parents states that “there is no evidence that one company’s milk is better for your baby than any other”. The CMA also found that once parents and babies had adopted a brand, they rarely switch.
Anderson agreed with Richard Walker, the executive chair of Iceland, who described price rises in the market as “exploitation”. “I would agree it’s greedflation – I don’t see any reason that the price has to be as high as it is,” said Anderson. “I don’t think it is right for the only food source to allow a child to live to be put up such a large amount. There should be a set price across the market.
“There needs to be more support and understanding for women who can’t breastfeed. It’s not one size fits all.”