There is a surprising new currency being traded on the black market by crime syndicates – and no, it’s not that powder you’d expect.
Baby formula is hot property among criminal networks, and authorities across Australia are grappling with how to stop the crooks from cashing in on the product that fetches huge profits in China.
The problem has become so common that retailers are now keeping the tins locked up behind the shop counter alongside cigarettes (the other lucrative product for gangs).
In Melbourne this month, staff at a Coles supermarket caught a man brazenly walking out of the shop with a trolley full of hundreds of stolen tins.
In the biggest formula burglary Victoria has seen, a gang of five thieves was charged last week after allegedly targeting more than 40 sites in one month.
The criminal gangs hit supermarkets and warehouses, sometimes brazenly in the middle of the day, stocking up on as many tins as they can before making a run for it.
They then send the formula to China where it can fetch more than $100 for each one.
One of the men charged in the Victorian ring, Jaswinder Singh, 31, from St Albans, joined the gang in an attempt to fund his heroin addiction, according to The Herald Sun.
Syndicates are also working out of Sydney, where two people were arrested in June when police raided a storage container and found $25,000 worth of stolen products, including popular brands of the milk powder.
And as of April, eight people were charged after another crime ring allegedly stole 4000 tins of formula from stores across Sydney.
In Victoria, police said they were working with retailers to curb the number of thefts.
“Police are aware that international demands can make it an attractive commodity for criminal entities,” spokeswoman Belinda Batty said.
“We are committed to holding offenders to account for these crimes and have made a number of arrests following thefts from supermarkets and pharmacies across Melbourne.”
One superviser at Coles in Melbourne told The New Daily they had moved their baby formula behind the counter after one man walked out with a trolley full.
“One guy put 300 to 400 in a trolley and just walked out. Thankfully they caught him,” she said.
“We do have some in the aisles. They’re security tagged but some aren’t, so we’ve put them there (behind the counter).”
An independent pharmacy in Melbourne CBD said they moved their stock close to the counter after hearing about the thefts.
“We’ve read about it and that’s why we keep them here,” the owner said pointing to the display a metre away from the counter.”
Australian baby formula has become a highly sought after product in China since 2008, when a large batch was contaminated in the country, leaving 300,000 children sick and six infants dead.
In the years following the scandal, consumer trust in Chinese milk products eroded and the local market was flooded by brands from Australia and Europe, for a highly inflated price.
This has led to chaos in Australian aisles as professional shoppers – or daigou – legally buy the milk powder for it to be shipped overseas.
The demand has emptied shelves and caused outrage among locals, who say there has not been enough product for them.
Hi Woolworths was just at your North Melbourne store and the two can limit on baby formula per transaction doesn’t seem…
Belinda Jennings, founder of national mums network Mum Central, said that local mothers were struggling to get certain products because they were flying off the shelves.
“I’ve seen empty shelves, and I’ve heard in conversations just how mums are struggling to find a specific formula,” she said.
“Especially new mums who are trying to find their feet.”
Ms Jennings said that the two-cans-per-person rule was failing, as demand for the product appears insatiable.
“They (daigou) go in and buy their two tins, leave and go straight back in. It doesn’t take long when there’s four or five to empty a supermarket. It’s big business,” she said.