Infant Milk Formula: Different Mothers, Different Attitudes

Infant Milk Formula: Different Mothers, Different Attitudes

          
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Infant Milk Formula

Different Mothers, Different Attitudes
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    In This Article
    • Most mothers would pay as much as they could to get the best infant formula.
    • Big-city mothers tend to be better informed about what constitutes good nutrition.
    • Small-city mothers put greater confidence in TV ads and expert advice than do big-city mothers.
    • Big-city mothers research baby products early, whereas small-city mothers wait almost until delivery.
     

    No matter where they live, mothers want to provide the very best for their children. But because Chinese mothers usually have only one child, their willingness to trade up for infant formula is exceptionally strong. In our survey, more than 80 percent of mothers in big and small cities said that they would pay as much as they could to get the best quality. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for a mother in a tier 3 city to pay RMB 200 (more than $30) for a 900-gram can of formula, which is more than it costs in the United States or Europe.

    However, there are some notable differences between mothers in China’s big cities and their counterparts in small cities in terms of what they look for in infant formula. Like big-city mothers, small-city mothers regard nutritional ingredients as their top purchase criterion. But they are not as informed as big-city mothers about what constitutes good nutrition.

    In smaller cities, DHA (an omega fatty acid) is the most popular ingredient in infant formula, thanks to heavy promotion on television. Small-city mothers genuinely believe that DHA supplements can make their baby smarter. So when it comes to choosing a brand, they look for the amount and type of DHA contained in the product and pay little attention to other nutritional ingredients that the formula might contain.

    Mothers in big cities, by contrast, can easily name a number of ingredients ranging from basic ones such as protein and calcium to newer, more advanced additives such as probiotics (which help with digestion) or beta carotene (which helps develop vitamin A). Instead of focusing solely on DHA, big-city mothers tend to look for a balanced formula that contains a wide range of different nutritional ingredients required for their baby’s growth.

    The fact that mothers in smaller cities tend to know less about the science of nutrition derives partly from where and when they seek their information. Mothers in smaller cities tend to believe television ads, especially on CCTV, a state-owned national TV station, because they assume that the government wouldn’t allow a company to advertise if its claims were false. And unlike big-city mothers, who usually begin researching baby products (often online) in their second trimester of pregnancy, small-city mothers tend to wait until they are about to deliver to research baby products. Because they start late, they have less time to conduct sophisticated and wide-ranging searches. Typically, they go to the nearest store to compare product features and learn what’s available. But because they’ve done no other research, they are especially susceptible to the sales pitches of the product promoters in the store.

    Finally, mothers in small cities put more trust in the advocacy of physicians and other medical professionals, whereas big-city mothers, who have heard about remunerative relationships between product marketers and doctors, are much more skeptical. In our study, 63 percent of MACs in tier 5 cities put doctors in the top three most reliable information sources, compared with less than half of MACs in tier 1 cities.

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    • Hong Kong
    • Senior Partner & Managing Director
    • Hong Kong
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