Damning footage has exposed a “disgraceful” shopping tactic being employed by Chinese shoppers to shamelessly stockpile containers of baby formula.
Several shoppers were filmed at Docklands Woolworths in Melbourne in a human “merry go round” of buying two cans, storing them in a nearby bag at the front of the store, then returning to purchase another two.
Disturbed onlooker Andy Frances captured the act, being performed by about 15 shoppers, and uploaded it to Facebook on Saturday, asking the retailer if it was ok with allowing this behaviour.
The supermarket giant has a policy of only two cans per customer, per shop, but appears to be doing little to enforce it.
“Thoughts about this Woolworths? Two per day means nothing when they just come in and out until the shelves are empty,” his post read.
Mr Frances was referring to a two-can limit introduced in an effort to “manage the supply” of baby formula which had become strained amid the emergence of Chinese daigou shoppers.
Daigous make large profits from selling sought-after Australian products such as baby formula via online marketplaces to buyers in China.
“Your employee could not fill the shelves fast enough as it was a merry go round of people coming in and out continuously. Pity the genuine Mums trying to buy formula,” the angry customer wrote.
He told Yahoo News Australia that shoppers continued going back for more until all the stock, being filled by an employee from a pallet at the time, was completely gone.
“I asked the young guy filling the shelves. He told me that the pallet he had was all of the store's stock. He said there was nothing they could do as the policy was two per transaction,” Mr Frances said.
“There would have been at least 15 of them coming in, buying two cans and then going out and coming back. They kept going back until all stock was gone.”
Mr Fances described the store’s policy as a “joke”, and according to comments to his video, it seemed he wasn’t the only one fed up.
“Pisses me off so much that this is still happening,” someone wrote.
“This practice should be banned and made illegal for individuals to send overseas,” another wrote.
A spokesperson from Woolworths told Yahoo News Australia there was no shortage of baby formula at the specific store on Saturday when the video was taken.
“We have a two tin transaction limit on baby formula in place and our store teams work hard to ensure customers have access to stock when they need it,” they said.
“Baby formula stock has been available at our Victoria Harbour store throughout the week, and remains so today.We encourage any parents who find their chosen baby formula is unavailable on the shelves to speak with store management, so we can help get them stock as quickly as possible.”
Where did daigou shopping start?
A surging interest in Australian produced baby formula in China stems from the 2008 baby formula epidemic which saw six babies die and over 400,000 others falling sick with kidney problems, many needing a lifetime of treatment.
There were 20 companies, most prominently the Sanlu Group, that were indicted in the controversy after melamine, a chemical used to make plastic, was added to powdered milk to artificially boost protein levels, as those involved in the industry tried to meet the demand of its growing market.
The implications were so severe, dairy farmer Zhang Yujun and salesman Geng Jinping were sentenced to death over their roles in the saga while 19 others were jailed, including the life imprisonment of Sanlu Group’s former chairwoman Tian Wenhua.
The incident rocked China and shattered the public’s confidence in domestic produce.
Young mothers instead went in search of respected products further afield, prompting a surge in sales of baby formula from abroad which has culminated in the chaotic scenes Australians are accustomed to seeing weekly in supermarkets.
What is a daigou?
A daigou shopper refers to an individual or syndicated group of exporters outside China who purchase items for people in China.
They typically engage in some form of loophole to avoid paying import tariffs imposed on overseas goods.
Under Australian Government dairy product export rules to China, formula can be sent if the consignment is under 10kg. Multiple consignments can be sent if the recipient differs.
Daigou shoppers can reportedly make more than $100,000 a year from their online formula trade.
Those sorts of figures were evidently far too good for even the Chinese Navy to pass up on, with soldiers pictured loading their warship with endless boxes of formula during a trip to Sydney.
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