SMA Gold: why has the price shot up?

SMA_tin

‘Look at that handy scoop levelling bar…’

The Duchess had a miserable time breastfeeding Boy Wonder, largely caused by a long, tiring birth and complicated by contradictory advice from midwives and health visitors. In the end, after a week, she put the hungry mite on powdered milk. I can’t remember why but we plumped for SMA Gold. It was a difficult time and the Duchess worried for ages that she was somehow letting down our little boy. However, he regularly ‘walloped’ his bottles (not unlike his father and grandad) and went from strength to strength.

At that time, up to the end of 2009, a 900g tin of SMA Gold cost around £7.20. So when, after a much better breastfeeding experience but so she could manage both a baby and a toddler, the Duchess moved Little Buddha on to bottles, we naturally went for SMA Gold. The cost of a tin had edged up slightly, to around £7.60, but that’s good old inflation for you, we thought.

Imagine our surprise a few months ago, then, when we found Asda selling the same sized tin for £8.99. I hotfooted it to Sainsbury’s and then Tesco, only to find the same price at both stores.

I emailed each of the supermarkets to ask why the price of this family staple had increased by a good 18% during these harsh economic times?

Sainsbury’s replied: “Whilst we try to absorb these increases for as long as possible, sometimes we eventually have to put the price up. In this case the supplier increased their prices and this has caused the increase.”

Interestingly, Asda replied: “There is now a legal requirement for all retailers to sell baby milk no less than the cost price. This means we are no longer able to cut prices on these products to pass savings onto you, the customer.”

Meanwhile, Tesco replied: “After looking into this for you, I have found that the price increase has been due to a supplier led cost increase. I am very sorry, however, as it was not due to us, I would have to ask you to contact SMA directly regarding this issue.”

So I did. SMA, which is a subsidiary of Pfizer, ‘the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company’, replied (with my comments added):

“The price on shelf is always decided by the individual retailer. As of 3rd May 2011, Pfizer Nutrition has introduced a price increase on certain products to trade customers.” – Funny how all the ‘individual retailers’ decided on exactly the same price all at the same time.

“This is to reflect investment in innovation and product development to advance the quality of formulations within our SMA Advanced Gold System range of products. We have also invested in an improved packaging design incorporating new features such as an easy peel foil and a handy scoop levelling bar.” – It’s funny but I don’t remember straining to remove the old-style lid and the ‘scoop levelling bar’ isn’t that handy – it makes the powder go everywhere, leaving waste around the rim, which is why I quickly reverted to a trusty knife.

“In addition, key ingredients within our formulas have experienced significant increases in cost, reflecting global component price increases. Pfizer Nutrition works hard to provide excellent quality products at an affordable cost. Pfizer Nutrition is focused on advancing the nutritional quality of its products. New SMA First Milk contains a new fat blend that more closely resembles that found in breast milk. This can lead to softer stools more like those of a breastfed baby. We are confident that SMA First Infant Milk with its improved fat blend and protein quality reflects up to date scientific research and provides complete nutrition for babies who are not breastfed.” – Ah, the old inflation problem, hey. Yes, we parents know about that worry. That argument has some merit but can I check: if the cost of the different ingredients fall in future, will you reduce the price? Oh, and are you saying that your marketing claims in 2009 that SMA Gold was a nutritious, pretty close substitute for breast milk wasn’t actually right and that’s only the case now, with SMA Gold’s ‘improved fat blend and protein quality’?

I know, I know. This is just the way it is in our globalised market economy. And we can always vote with our family wallet, can’t we, and choose another brand? Well, actually, probably not. Our daughter has got used to this synthetic substitute and, while they probably are all pretty much the same in quality and taste, this is her main source of nutrition at the moment so we can’t risk swapping brands like it’s toothpaste or fuel or bread. How will we feel if she doesn’t take to the new product or is sick during feeds?

But hey, if someone out there is just about to have a baby, please note that Cow n’ Gate is still only around £7.60. Mind, the foil lid is probably dead hard to rip off.

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