Northern Ireland

Increases in branded prices, including baby fomula, 'very concerning'

Two companies control 85% of the baby formula market, the Competition and Markets' Authority says
Two companies control 85% of the baby formula market, the Competition and Markets' Authority says Two companies control 85% of the baby formula market, the Competition and Markets' Authority says

Increases in prices, including branded baby formula, are "very concerning" for new parents already dealing with reduced maternity and paternity leave income, according to a leading Northern Ireland parents' group.

Muriel Bailey, Parent NI's head of services and operations, said her organisation and Solus partnered in a research project, which indicated single and separated parents in the north experience significant financial struggles and hardship.

The Competition and Markets Authority said three in four companies supplying branded beans, mayonnaise, infant formula and pet food have raised prices faster than the cost increases they have shouldered.

It also announced an investigation into the highly concentrated baby formula market, where just two companies account for 85% of sales.

The CMA said most of the food price inflation in recent years has been driven by the rises in costs that companies have faced.

In several categories the CMA looked at, including cat food, desserts, lemonade, ready meals and milk, sales of both branded and non-branded items fell. But the one exception is infant formula, the agency said.

Just two suppliers account for 85% of infant formula sales, it said, and there is “very limited availability” of own-brand alternative.

Aldi is the only supermarket to offer an own-brand alternative, meaning few parents have switched as prices have risen.

The CMA said infant formula prices have increased 25% over two years.

“We’re concerned that parents may not always have the right information to make informed choices and that suppliers may not have strong incentives to offer infant formula at competitive prices,” said CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell.

Ms Bailey said the Solas research "findings from parents are already very stark and worrying".

"So to have further increased price hikes on branded goods is very concerning and especially for new parents who are already navigating reduced income due to maternity and paternity leave," Ms Bailey said.

"Babies require specific essential food and other items such as nappies and baby formula, if this is the chosen method of feeding and unfortunately if there are only a few brands of formula available then this will be a very stressful time for parents in trying to make income stretch to purchase the day to day essentials for all the family."