Benjamin Li
Feb 1, 2013

Mannings faces PR fallout over milk-powder issue

HONG KONG - Local retailer Mannings is facing growing criticism, in social and mainstrream media, over shortages of milk-powder products due to bulk buying by mainland people who turn around and sell the products at a profit in China.

Mannings' statement of apology
Mannings' statement of apology

Growing outrage over the shortages has been fueled, via social media, by a part-time cashier who quit in disgust because she felt her job was helping the so-called "parallel traders". The demand, needless to say, is driven by quality concerns about milk-powder products produced within China.

The cashier's story has been covered extensively in local media, and frustration among Hong Kong parents is running high, raising the risk for a brand that positions itself as caring about its local customers and being the "No. 1 preferred brand".

The brand has not yet issued an official statement (note). Campaign Asia-Pacific tried multiple times to contact Mannings marketing communications team this morning, but did not receive a direct reply. Elaine Lam, a senior account executive with Champagne Relation, the brand's PR agency, contacted Campaign and said the brand is working on a response to the crisis.

Campaign also spoke with Andrew Lee, founder of Metta Communications, which works with the brand. Lee said Metta has been working with Mannings to develop and launch a 'Mother's Club' initiative, which would allow mothers to prove their babies' were born in Hong Kong in order to get guaranteed supplies of milk powder. Close to 200 stores are participating in the Mother's Club, he said. 

Lee added that he personally believes the Hong Kong Government should do something to control and limit the amount of milk-powder products that are moving across the border. "It is tricky issue," he said, "since Mannings opens its door to do business."

In a video interview with Apple Daily the cashier described how the parallel traders would queue up at her store and buy all of the available supply each day, despite a policy limiting each buyer to four cans. She added that she felt like an "alibi" for the parallel traders, while many local parents struggle to buy milk powders. The cashier aired her discontent in local social discussion forum site,, and received rave support.

According to a 30 January report in the South China Morning Post, the government plans to decide "in a few days" whether to protect baby formula as a  “reserved commodity”, like rice, to ensure local needs. Speaking on a RTHK programme on last Wednesday morning, the secretary for Food and Health, Ko Wing-man said the government was studying the feasibility of adding the formula under the Reserved Commodities Ordinance to prevent parallel trading.

Correction, 3:25 pm: This story originally stated that the brand had posted a statement of apology on its website. However, that apology dates to two years ago (although it still exists on the Mannings website and was readily accessible via a Google search). 


Campaign China

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