Chinese Look to Germany for Milk Powder

Chinese raid German baby formula before Lunar new year.
Chinese Look to Germany for Milk Powder
A family selecting baby formula in the imported baby products section of a supermarket in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

As the New Year approaches, Chinese have once again started their annual raid on milk powder in Germany. As family members look forward to returning to China for the Lunar New Year, they stock up on the highly prized German milk powder.

In Munich in southern Germany, many Chinese arrive with a pushcart at 8:00 a.m., when the stores selling milk powder open. Most Chinese customers who are interviewed say that they are purchasing milk powder as gifts for friends and relatives back home, according to German media reports via Radio Free Asia.

Some acknowledge, though, that they are planning to resell the powder to make money. A box of milk powder worth 10 euros can be sold for 25 euros in China. These milk powder entrepreneurs are busy the whole year.

After living through many notorious food safety and dairy scandals in China, Chinese customers have lost trust in the milk powder produced in their own country. The decisive event was the 2008 melamine-laced milk powder scandal in which the state reported 300,000 infant victims and six deaths. That scandal has been followed by other reports of melamine appearing in China’s milk.

With the urgent need for safe products, reselling milk powder has become a roaring business in China.

Alarms were also raised in 2012, when the Yili Group, one of the top state-owned dairy product manufacturers, reported that 2 out of 40 batches of its products were found to have mercury content higher than normal, which is 0.034 and 0.045 mg/kg, according to the BBC. Mercury will damage the brain and kidneys.

With the urgent need for safe products, reselling milk powder has become a roaring business in China. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in 2013 that Chinese smuggle more milk powder than heroin.

From January through April 2013, 880 dealers were arrested for illegally smuggling milk powder from Hong Kong to China. In all of 2013, 81 cocaine and heroin dealers were detained smuggling from Hong Kong to China.

Chun Lai (pseudonym), a Chinese woman who came to Germany seven years ago as a student, has become a professional seller, earning an income of 16,000 euros (approximately US$17,490) a month, Deutsche Welle reports.

Chinese parents especially like famous brands such as Milupa. Aptamil, a major product of Milupa, increased its sales by 30 percent in 2013, while Chinese brands such as Mengniu have seen their business slip. In 2012, Mengniu’s sales of dairy products went down by 16 percent.

This brisk trade creates some inconvenience for Germans. Some German mothers have to store several cans in case milk powder should be out of stock. A supervisor for a German consumer organization said the phenomenon of Chinese buying milk powder has caused chaos for the German milk powder industry.