Chemist caps sales to Chinese customers

A member of a large Australian chemist chain is capping sales of pharmaceutical products to Chinese customers to prevent bulk-buying for export to China, writes Amy Collins.

A Chemart store is limiting sales to customers of Chinese appearance in a bid to counter a run on some products, according to an employee.

Grace McKelvey, a pharmacy assistant at Chemmart Hawthorn, said bulk buying of hundreds of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals for export to China has led the store to restrict sales to some customers.

China’s healthcare boom has led thousands of Chinese tourists and permanent residents in Australia to bulk-buy vitamins, cosmetics, treatments and baby formula for export.

Chinese customers began to export baby formula in 2009, following quality and safety issues from Chinese manufacturers.

McKelvey said, “In 2012 it started to rapidly expand and we had to start capping sales.

“It expanded to all these different specific lines that were really popular for export, and another line gets added every couple of months,” McKelvey said.

Many Australian pharmacies have found they are running out of popular lines such as Swisse liver detox, Blackmores vitamin E cream and Lamisil 1 per cent cream.

Manufacturers cannot keep up with demand, as some products are out of stock for months at a time while production lines struggle to catch up.

Lamisil 1 per cent cream was out of stock in some stores for up to two months this year, forcing customers to buy more expensive products from the brand’s range.

What you see here … medications and pills that are run-of-the-mill items in any pharmacy – is not what you get to buy in bulk if you look Chinese.
What you see here … medications and pills that are run-of-the-mill items in any pharmacy – is not what you get to buy in bulk if you look Chinese.

A former manager of one pharmaceutical firm who preferred not to be named said, “While it’s great turnover it puts a lot of pressure on manufacturers for production, transporting costs and forecasting.

“Lamisil 1 per cent cream has more than doubled its turnover in the last 12 months.”

While many manufacturers expand their production lines in anticipation of increasing sales, pharmacies are left to deal with angry customers.

“Australian customers will often come in and tend to kick up a fuss,” McKelvey said.

One of the nation’s biggest pharmacy groups is handling the problem by instructing staff to sell six of any product to other customers per day, but only two to any customer of Chinese appearance.

As Chinese-looking customers enter the store, staff must clear the shelves of popular items so that it appears they have none left to sell.

“There’s no long-term plan to handle this huge demand,” the former pharmaceuticals maker said.