How organic dairy darling Bellamy's slipped up in China

How organic dairy darling Bellamy's came unstuck in China


Bellamy's infant formula is selling for about $22.40 a can online in China - half the price of six weeks ago and even cheaper than it sells for Australia.

Bellamy's infant formula is selling for about $22.40 a can online in China - half the price of six weeks ago and even cheaper than it sells for Australia.

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Bellamy's Organic is dumping stock in China after weak sales during a recent shopping festival.

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Bellamy's Organic is dumping stock in China after weak sales during a recent shopping festival, pushing the online price of its infant formula down 50 per cent to below levels in Australia.

In what is shaping up as another story of Chinese success moderating as quickly as it materialised, Bellamy's also appears to be out of favour with influential personal shoppers, known as daigou, who say they began moving away from the Tasmanian brand late last year.

As shares in parent company Bellamy's Australia continued to fall on Monday – they are now down 45pc since Friday's "business update" from chief executive Laura McBain – the scale of the company's problems in China can be seen via JD.com.

The country's biggest e-commerce retailer is selling Bellamy's infant formula for just 115 RMB ($22.40).

That's half the price of six weeks ago and even cheaper than Coles online in Australia, which has the same product listed at $28.

And while other e-commerce sites, such as Tmall, have kept Bellamy's prices above $30, the deep discounting on JD.com is not a good sign.

It suggests Bellamy's has way too much stock in China and needs to clear it quickly.

One possible explanation is that it shipped too much product prior to last month's Singles Day shopping festival, an event that runs on most Chinese e-commerce platforms.

In its announcement on Friday, Bellamy's said revenue from the day more than doubled compared to last year, but this was "below the company's expectations".

That same announcement also sought to brand the problems as sector-wide and as a "temporary volume dislocation", brought on by regulatory changes announced by Beijing in April.

Bellamy's main Australian rival, The A2 Milk Company, appears to be having none of the same problems.

Its cheapest offering on JD.com is nearly $32, while the majority of its products are listed for more than $36.

However, A2 Milk Company has felt the heat from the the Bellamy's rout, with its shares also down 10 per cent since Friday.

"We are concerned the cheaper pricing [of Bellamy's] is creating a consumer perception of inferior quality," said Citi analyst Sam Teeger, who correctly predicted slowing sales growth for Bellamy's back in October.

"We prefer to see Bellamy's holding or increasing pricing, and investing in below the line marketing or a brand ambassador as opposed to discounting its product."

The Bellamy's discounting on JD.com would also be causing it problems with its network of daigou, which account for a significant portion of the company's China sales.

While part of the appeal of this informal import channel is products being couriered directly from Australia, without being handled in China, it only works if there is a large price gap.

That gap between supermarket shelves in Australia and online in China no longer exists for Bellamy's and many of the other big brands.

"The daigou are just traders,” said Matthew McKenzie from The Export Group, which helps Australian brands enter markets across Asia.

“If they can't make a margin on a brand then they just move on and start pushing the next big thing to their customers,"

One daigou who goes by the name Sinobaby said Bellamy's had experienced a shortage of infant formula at the end of last year and mothers had switched to other products.

"Then they didn't come back [to Bellamy's]," he said

The Financial Review asked Sinobaby and five other daigou what was their top selling infant formula brand from Australia.

Only one mentioned Bellamy's in the top three, while all said A2 was the most popular.

That suggests A2 has done a better job in maintaining prices and brand appeal at a time of disruption in China.

That said, it's far from over for Bellamy's.

It was only four years ago that Treasury Wine Estates was suffering similar problems in China.

It was heavily discounting its Penfolds range amid a glut of wine.

A year later, a new management team had turned the business around, mainly by cutting out middle men and going direct through traditional offline channels.

  • This article first appeared in The Australian Financial Review.
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