Supply-Chain Issues and a Recall Have Parents Scrambling for Baby Formula

Web searches related to the phrase ‘how to make homemade formula for babies’ are reportedly rising quickly and people are sharing homemade formula recipes on social media.

Via Wikimedia Commons

Parents across the country are scrambling to find baby formula amid supply-chain problems and a recent Abbott Nutrition recall.

The nationwide baby formula stock was at 60 percent of capacity the week of April 24, down from 69 percent two weeks earlier, according to Datasembly, a retail data analytics company. The out-of-stock rate surpassed 50 percent in six states.

“You go into problem-solving mode,” a 28-year-old mother in South Berwick, Maine, Sarah Grogan, tells the Sun. She says she used to drive to a discount retailer every two weeks to purchase its generic brand infant formula, but she’s been unable to find it for the past two months.

Ms. Grogan and her husband now buy formula whenever they see it. She said she feels lucky that her daughter can tolerate the constant switching of brands and formula blends because not every baby can. The shortages are particularly challenging for families of infants with colic, allergies, or digestive issues, who need specialized formula.

Three-quarters of babies in the U.S. are fed formula before they reach six months of age, according to the CDC. These infants rely on formula for all their nutritional needs, as babies can’t start drinking cow’s milk until they reach 12 months.

“How is this not the biggest story in America?” a New York Post columnist, Karol Markowicz, tweeted recently. Parents are lamenting online that the toilet paper shortages of 2020 received much more press coverage than the formula problems. 

On Twitter, #BabyFormulaShortage is trending with accompanying photos of bare drug store shelves. Web searches related to the phrase “how to make homemade formula for babies” are reportedly rising quickly and people are sharing homemade formula recipes on social media, which the FDA warns could cause “serious health problems” in infants.

“Inflation, supply chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,” Datasembly’s CEO, Ben Reich, said. He called baby formula “one of the more affected categories” of the supply-chain crisis. 

In mid-February, Abbott Nutrition recalled all powder formula manufactured in its Sturgis, Michigan, plant under the popular brand names Simulac, Alimentum, and EleCare after four infants got sick with Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacterial infection, and two died. An FDA inspection found that Abbott failed to maintain clean surfaces in its plant.

While the recall exacerbated the shortages, the crisis was already under way. “A baby formula shortage is leaving Americans ‘worried’ — yet another effect of Biden’s supply chain crisis,” the RNC tweeted in January.

The baby formula supply was relatively stable for the first seven months of 2021, according to Datasembly, but Covid-related supply-chain issues including labor shortages, trouble getting key ingredients, and problems with packaging constricted supplies. In July, the out-of-stock rate hit double digits for the first time, and it’s been rising steadily since November.

Major retailers like CVS, Walgreens, and Target are now limiting the amount of formula customers can purchase. Ms. Grogan says the shelves look like “when Covid first hit” and everyone was “panic buying. Except you can’t panic buy formula because there’s a limit on it.”

Purchasing formula online from Amazon or these major retailers isn’t any easier. Many of the most popular brands are “temporarily out of stock.”

Ms. Garbor says she’s spending more each week on formula because she can’t afford to be picky about what she buys. The average cost of the most popular baby formula products is up as much as 18 percent over last year, according to CBS. This crisis is hitting low-income parents the hardest.

Senator Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, wrote a letter to the Biden administration April 12 asking what the FDA is doing to “minimize the impact of the immediate shortage.” The Sun reached out to the FDA but did not get a response.

Republicans are hitting President Biden hard on this issue: The RNC tweeted about it five times in the last two days. The president has yet to comment on the issue.

Formula companies say they are ramping up production to try to meet demand. In the meantime, parents are worried and panic buying could exacerbate the crisis.

Ms. Grogan says it’s ironic that we’re celebrating Mother’s Day while the shortages are making it harder for mothers like her. She says she never thought she’d encounter this problem in America: “They keep beer on the shelves, so I don’t know why they can’t keep formula.”

The New York Sun

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