03 July 2023
Cost of every available first infant formula milk exceeds value of Healthy Start allowance
Cost of every available first infant formula milk exceeds value of Healthy Start allowance
There are no first infant formulas available that are affordable with the Healthy Start allowance, which is £8.50 per week, or £34 per month for those with children aged under one.
Research undertaken as part of The Food Foundation’s Kids Food Guarantee, funded by Fusion21, found the government benefit which is designed to provide a nutritional safety net for mothers on low incomes by providing vouchers for fruit, vegetables, milk and formula, would not cover the cost of any infant formulas sold in supermarkets in the UK.
Across all nine major supermarkets reviewed, the price of a tin of standard powdered formula ranges from £9.39 to £15.95, a difference of £6.56.
This means the highest priced formula product is 70% more expensive than the lowest priced product.
Aldi’s Mamia formula, the only retailer own-brand formula on the market, is the cheapest product available at £1.04 per 100g.
The most expensive brand is Aptamil by Danone, with a price range of £1.68 to £1.99 per 100g across the nine retailers examined.
The Food Foundation’s research also found that the same brand of formula was available for a range of different prices depending on where it was stocked, despite first infant milk formula products being comparable in terms of nutrition composition due to strict regulation around the composition of formula milks.
For example, Aptamil costs £1.68 per 100g at Iceland but £1.99 per 100g at the Co-operative Group. Kendamil first infant milk costs £1.11 per 100g at ASDA but £1.50 per 100g at Sainsbury’s and Ocado.
The cost of living crisis is making it harder for some families to afford formula.
First Steps Nutrition reports that between March 2021 (before food prices started to rise) and April 2023, the seven standard powdered first infant formulas sold by the market leaders increased in cost by an average of 24%, and the only ‘own-brand’ infant formula on the market (ALDI’s Mamia brand, which remains the cheapest) increased by 45%.
The Food Foundation’s Kid’s Food Guarantee is therefore calling for retailers to offer an own brand formula and encouraging both manufacturers and retailers to insulate first infant milk formula from the worst of food price inflation.
Own-brand or own-label products are carried exclusively by the supermarket that owns them and are generally cheaper than branded goods despite being of comparable or identical quality.
Data from The Food Foundation show that 27% of UK households home to children under the age of four experienced food insecurity in January 2023, which is higher than for those households with only school-age children or no children at all. Despite the risk this poses to children’s health, the value of the Healthy Start allowance in England, Northern Ireland and Wales has not increased in line with inflation.
In Scotland, the value of Best Start funds increased in line with inflation by 10.1% in April 2023 in recognition of the difficulties many households are facing due to the cost of living crisis. Payments increased to £9.90 (£39.60 a month) for children aged under one.
The wide disparity in pricing of products that are nutritionally equivalent (due to strict regulations on the nutrition composition of formula) is driven in large part by differences in branding and marketing, with own-brand formulas often cheaper as a result of simpler packaging and branding (rather than being nutritionally inferior to more expensive alternatives).
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "First infant milk formulas are becoming increasingly expensive for many low income families.
"This is a huge risk to children’s health given that where breastfeeding is not chosen or possible, infant formula before the age of six months is the only option parents have for feeding their infants, and is a key source of both calories and other essential micronutrients between six months and the age of one.
"Attempts by parents to cut costs, for example by reducing feeding frequency, ignoring best before dates, or over-diluting powdered infant formula, come with extremely worrying health risks.
"We need urgent action from the government to increase the value of Healthy Start funds in line with inflation, and more action from retailers to support their customers struggling with the cost of living crisis."
Vicky Sibson, Director at First Steps Nutrition, said: "The unaffordable and unjustified high cost of most infant formulas is a concern that pre-dates the current cost of living crisis.
"The fact that the prices have kept on rising while formula company profit margins have been reported to exceed 20% must be investigated by relevant authorities.
"Infant formula is an essential food for many infants in the UK and the government has a responsibility to ensure that the parents/carers of every baby who needs it can reliably access it.
"Inadequate diets in the early years can have life-long implications. The health of babies must come before business profits."
Geoff Bew on Geoff.firstname.lastname@example.org or 07985301303
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Healthy Start is part of the UK Government’s benefits scheme targeted at families with children under the age of four and pregnant mothers on very low incomes, as well as all pregnant teenagers below 18 years of age. It is meant to provide a critical nutritional safety net for the most nutritionally vulnerable, and comprises two parts: a cash allowance and multivitamin supplements. Eligible families in England, Wales and NI receive £4.25 per week per eligible individual (£8.50 for infants under 1) intended for spending on fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables, pulses and grains, cow's milk or infant formula, as well as free multivitamins for both pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and infants and children under four-years-old.
We selected six standard first infant formula milk products sold in the UK at the major supermarkets. Manufacturers for each brand are listed in brackets. These are:
- Aptamil 1 First Infant Milk From Birth (Danone)
- Cow & Gate 1 First Milk Powder (Danone)
- HiPP Organic Infant Milk (HiPP)
- Kendamil First Infant Milk Stage 1 (Kendal Nutricare)
- Mamia First Infant Milk (Aldi)
- SMA Little Steps First Milk 1 From Birth (Nestle)
We then found the price of these brands as listed online at each of the nine major UK retailers: ALDI, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose.
The data was collected on 5th June 2023, and the search will run on a regular basis for the next 3 months as we continually assess the price and availability of first infant milk formula. We separately looked at both price/100g and the unit price of a tin of formula. The price of the larger tins (typically containing 800-900g of formula) provides a more realistic reflection of shopping behaviour, as consumers do not buy formula in 100g portions.
We excluded pharmacies, such as Boots and Superdrug, from our search as the Kids Food Guarantee is focused on supermarkets and manufacturers. The majority of retailers stock three or more of the above-mentioned brands. ALDI is the exception with its own-brand Mamia First Infant Milk formula and does not stock any other branded products. As powdered infant formula is the cheapest format available and is the most widely used (as opposed to liquid ready-to-feed infant formula and formula tablets), we focus on this in this analysis in line with First Steps Nutrition’s analysis of formula. This is first stage infant formula made with cows’ milk, and we excluded hungry baby, anti-reflux, lactose free or comfort milks. More expensive goat milks are also excluded.
Kendamil first infant milk is sold in both 800g and 900g tins across different retailers. We therefore included Kendamil in our pricing analysis per 100g of formula, but excluded the product from our price analysis per unit/tin, as we were not able to compare the price of a tin consistently across retailers.
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Anna Taylor – Executive Director, The Food Foundation
Vicky Sibson – Director, First Steps Nutrition
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About the Food Foundation
The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.
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With thanks to our Funder:
Celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, Fusion21 is a national social enterprise specialising in efficient and impactful public sector procurement and visible social value. The Fusion21 Foundation was set up in 2015 as a registered charity, to help build brighter futures for the communities that Fusion21 operates in. Since its inception in 2015, the Foundation has given over £1.6 million in grants and has committed £2 million in social investment. The Foundation has three areas of focus: Employment and Skills; Health and Wellbeing; Financial Inclusion and Resilience. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Fusion21 Foundation.