The Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), which represents a collection of campaign groups and nutritionists working to promote better nutrition for children, said that doing so would be the most effective way of helping parents to access lower prices, without having to change legislation around how the products are marketed.
The group issued the statement in response to calls by Iceland Foods’ executive chairman Richard Walker for a change to advertising rules that restrict retailers from placing or promoting offers on infant formula products. It followed the retailer publicly announcing that it had cut the price of 14 lines of branded formula products, as a way of helping families during the cost-of-living crisis.
The BFLG said that it shared Iceland’s concerns that rising prices of infant formula threatened the “food security” of infants in families for whom formula has become unaffordable.
However, it stressed that the marketing restrictions on infant formula are not intended to limit accessibility of formula, but to protect families from “undue commercial influence” from manufacturers that could promote formula products as superior to breastfeeding, which has been scientifically proven to be the more nutritious option for infants, in particular for those aged below 12 months.
A weakening of the current restrictions – which are outlined in The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007 – would be “inappropriate” the group said. It is manufacturers and retailers that set prices.
“The most appropriate action that retailers of infant formula could take to alleviate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on families using formula to feed their babies would be to offer an own-brand first infant formula,” the BFLG said in the statement.
“Own brand products are typically priced below branded products due to the fact they often have simpler packaging and fewer non-mandatory ingredients than branded equivalents,”
Own-label formulas legally have to be manufactured to the same standards as branded lines. However, only Aldi currently offers an own label product with its Mamia range.
The BFLG has also recommended the implementation of price caps on formula products.
It also called for the government to improve access and uptake of its Healthy Start scheme, for example by extending the eligibility requirements for families to access the scheme, and for the payments available under the scheme to be increased in line with food inflation.
Baby formula is one of the ten categories currently being looked at by the CMA during the next stage of its ongoing investigation into profiteering within the grocery supply chain.