The Ministry of Health (MOH), Health Promotion Board (HPB) and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will be adjusting its guidelines and regulations pertaining to the advertising, labelling, and import of formula milk. According to a joint press statement issued, this is to encourage greater price competition.
This follows the findings issued by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) which investigated on the increasing milk formula prices in recent years. According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, the average retail price of formula milk has more than doubled over the past nine years.
According to CCS, the increase in wholesale prices over manufacturing costs was likely driven by the heavy investment into marketing and research and development activities undertaken by formula milk manufacturers.
“Such “premiumisation” strategies further strengthen consumer perceptions and entrench consumer purchasing behaviours, which in turn give the Formula Milk manufacturers the market power to increase wholesale prices,” CCS said.
According to MOH, HPB and AVA, the Sale of Infant Foods Ethics Committee, Singapore (SIFECS) the code of Ethics will cover formula for infants up to 12 months of age. It is also reviewing its code in line with international best practices. Currently, SIFECS covers the ethical aspects of marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes and already restricts advertising, marketing and promotion of infant formula for infants below six months in Singapore.
In addition, AVA will tighten its regulations on labelling and advertising for formula milk to ban the use of nutrition or health claims and idealised images. Through the move,
AVA aims to discourage companies from incurring massive costs on aggressive advertising and marketing activities, and passing these costs on to consumers.
AVA will also look towards streamlining its import requirements and procedures to facilitate entry of more suppliers and brands of formula milk, without compromising on food safety.
Hospital sponsorship guidelines and public education initiatives
Meanwhile, other measures include strengthening public education efforts and encouraging all hospitals to provide stronger support for breastfeeding. The regulators will also encourage all hospitals providing maternity services to achieve the international Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) certification.
To avoid conflict of interest, hospitals are also not allowed to enter into sponsorship arrangements with formula milk companies.
This is because hospitals are an important touch-point for parents, and their actions may shape the behaviour of parents – including the shaping of preferred brands when it comes to infant formula.
In a bid to help parent consumers make better informed decisions, HPB will step up public education and embark on a multi-year campaign on the nutritional needs of children. This is to combat the claims of some infant formula brands that they can do more than meet the nutritional needs of healthy infants. According to MOH, AVA and HPB, the scientific evidence for this is weak.
“Without better information, parents may rely on claims made by these companies, or be misled into using price as a proxy for the quality of the product,” the press statement read. It will look to reinforcing messages which encourage breast-feeding, especially in the first year of life.
Marketing has reached out to Abbott, Danone, FrieslandCampina, Nestle and Wyeth Nutrition for comment on how this will impact their marketing plans going forward.