Woolworths: Different buying limits on baby formula for Chinese customers is an error

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A man counts his coins at the beverage aisle in a Woolworths supermarket in central Sydney August 28, 2013. Australia's largest supermarket chain Woolworths Ltd said it expected earnings to grow in the current year even though consumer sentiment would remain subdued, as it posted a 3.3 percent rise in annual profit. Reuters/Daniel Munoz

Two signs limiting tins of baby formula per customer at a Woolworths store have become the centre point of controversy around the supermarket chain for allegedly being discriminating towards Chinese customers. While the sign in Mandarin limited the baby formula to two units per customer, the English version of it had a four-tin limit.

After the discrepancy came into notice, Woolworths said it was as error and took steps to remove the advertisement earlier this month. According to a customer at Melbourne’s Richmond store, the same signs with two different buying limits for customers were still displayed on Tuesday.

“That is discrimination,” the Herald Sun quoted the customer as saying. “It looked like they are trying to crack down more on Asian customers because of the formula shortage.”

Russell Mahoney, a spokesman for Woolworths, maintained that it was an error and not an attempt to discriminate. He said that the stores will be reminded to remove and destroy the signs.

“Woolworths apologises for an error in which some stores had the wrong tin limit for baby formula on signs for Mandarin speakers,” Mahoney said. “This error was picked up quickly and all stores should have replaced the signs. We have asked stores to further check their signs. Customers will have been able to scan the correct limit of four tins at the check-out.”

There have been reports of shortages in the supply of some Australian-made baby formulas like Bellamy’s Organic and A2 Platinum because of a huge demand in China. Many customers have been buying infant formulas in bulk and sending them over to family and friends in China or selling them online for a huge profit. This resulted in huge shortages at local supermarkets, with local parents struggling to find their preferred brands.

Woolworths have entered the Chinese market via an online store that offers a limited range of products including baby formula, milk powder, nuts, Weet-Bix and sultanas.

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