Supermarkets and chemists are limiting the number of tins of Karicare baby formula customers can buy because of patchy supplies as local Chinese buy up big to send the product abroad.

Nutricia, which supplies the brand, confirmed a surge in demand and that some Woolworths supermarkets and Chemmart stores have rationed sales of the formula to as few as two per customer.

The proprietor of Dianella's Chemmart, Phillip Conway, said he turned away an Asian customer who wanted 120 tins of Karicare before Christmas after having been warned by other chemists of the bulk purchases that were destined for foreign markets.

Mr Conway said the situation was most prevalent south of the river and the stock appeared primarily destined for China, where there had been big safety problems with baby formula products.

The manager of Superchem Family Pharmacy in Highgate, Richard McWatt, said one customer phoned yesterday to buy 100 tins of Karicare.

Joondalup's Chemist Warehouse said it limited sales to two per customer after a surge in demand, with some customers seeking up to 30 tins, temporarily forcing the product out of stock.

An Innaloo chemist, who asked not to be named, revealed Asian customers admitted buying the product in bulk to send to family overseas.

_The West Australian _ spoke to one Chinese buyer, who asked not to be named, who said she made more than 100 per cent profit by selling the formula to people in Hunan province.

Pastor Jackson Lee from the Perth Chinese Corps, connected to the Salvation Army, said members of WA's Chinese community bought the formula in bulk either for family abroad or for a profit.

He said those in China's growing middle class were prepared to pay up to $50 for a tin of the formula to ensure the safety of their children.

In 2008, a Chinese baby formula was found to contain the toxic industrial compound melamine, causing at least six children to die and about 300,000 to become ill.

A spokesman for Woolworths said the chain restricted the volume its customers were allowed to buy, depending on stock.

A spokesman for Nutricia said that despite strain on supplies in some areas, there was enough of the product in Australia to meet overall demand.

The West Australian

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