New Zealand's smaller infant formula players are looking less likely to retain their share of the creamy top as the industry consolidates.

More than 100 infant formula brands emerged in New Zealand in the wake of the 2008 melamine scandal - many created purely for export to China as savvy entrepreneurs captured a substantial price premium with effectively infinite demand.

Infant formula exports to China grew from only $515,000 in 2003 through to $200 million last year.

As retail infant formula sales are forecast to reach $US25 billion by 2017, there's a lot at stake for producers of all sizes.


The prospects of minor infant formula producers surviving the consolidation though appear slim, as the Chinese government looks likely to regulate them out of the market.

The Herald reported last month that China may restrict the number of New Zealand formula brands for sale in the market to 10. That same report suggested an alternate strategy could be to prohibit sales to those without a sales presence in the domestic market - cutting marketing-only brands out of the market.

The push for integrated supply chains and producers controlling their own milk supply back in China would appear to further fan the flames. The restrictions are not so much an indictment on the quality or processes of these small companies. Rather, for a market the size of China, sweeping regulations are the only realistic way the government can monitor all players and keep cowboys off supermarket shelves.

Those who do make the cut will find compliance a more stringent and complicated process. Four officials from China's Certification and Accreditation Administration carried out audits of seven local baby formula and dairy manufacturing facilities earlier this year. Rising costs of compliance will naturally force some players from the market, as ticking the boxes will quickly erode profit bases in the absence of sufficient scale.

A number of questions remain unanswered for minor-league infant formula producers, but regaining a foothold in the Chinese market is set to become a much tougher prospect.