Charles III, then still Prince Charles, visits the supermarket chain Iceland in 2021
Photo: Christopher Furlong / REUTERS
It's not often that a study by the UK's competition watchdog causes such outrage. The antitrust watchdogs had published figures on Wednesday that provide evidence that manufacturers of baby food raised prices much more than would have been necessary to cover the additional costs at the height of inflation.
Over the past two years, buyers have had to accept average price premiums of 25 percent. The competition watchdogs attribute this to the high concentration in the market for baby food, which is dominated by around 85 percent of Danone and Nestlé.
One of the most vocal critics of the food companies is a man who also earns his money selling food: Richard Walker, the CEO of the supermarket chain Iceland Foods. "This is exploitation. We have to stop this immediately," he says.
The cost of living has risen so much in recent years that poorer people are no longer able to feed their babies. "A week's supply of infant formula now costs £14.50. It's crazy, and I don't know how some people can afford it." Walker suggested that the government should agree on price controls with manufacturers and retailers.
The First Steps Nutrition Trust – a non-profit organisation that promotes healthy child nutrition – also called for a price cap as well as other measures. This should also include a public campaign to highlight the nutritional equivalence of all infant formulas – because their content is strictly regulated regardless of price and brand. The organization's own investigation in August had revealed significant price differences between the brands. The price per 100ml of cow's milk formula ranged from 13p for the cheapest product to 35p for the most expensive.
Walker argued that the burden on parents could be eased by relaxing the strict rules on marketing. For example, retailers could offer their customers the opportunity to buy infant formula using loyalty points or vouchers from food banks to save money. Iceland, for example, accepts loyalty points and currently sells infant formula at cost. With the special promotion, the company had already violated regulations in principle, because the price reduction had been advertised in the shops in the summer. "There should be fewer restrictions, I can advertise chewing gum or chocolate, but not baby food," he said.