If you're not the parent of a newborn, you may only now be waking up to headlines about a nationwide shortage of infant formula. Parents, in turn, have long known that securing food for one's baby can be a major challenge as many stores across the U.S. struggle to keep shelves stocked.
Since the start of the spring, Target (TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report, CVS (CVS) - Get CVS Health Corporation Report, Walgreens (WBA) - Get Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. Report and Kroger (KR) - Get Kroger Company (The) Report have all been limiting purchases of baby formula amid a nationwide shortage. According to the latest data from Datasembly, out-of-stock rates reached 31% in April and over 50% in states like Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee.
In order to prevent profiteering and even individual hoarding, CVS and Walgreens currently limits one-time purchases to three boxes of formula while Kroger caps buyers at four. Target also has limits on online purchases.
Why Is It Now So Hard To Find Baby Formula?
Often made of nutrient-enriched cow's milk, formula is the standard replacement breastmilk for those who are unable or unwilling to breastfeed.
Over the last year, a number of factors came together to create a situation in which stores are not able to meet their normal supply of baby formula.
The reverberations of the pandemic are still disrupting supply of many different items as production struggles to restart from lockdown-related disruption. But baby formula supply also took a major hit when, in February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled three brands of powdered formulas after several infants became sick eating it.
One of the largest suppliers in the country, Abbott Laboratories (ABT) - Get Abbott Laboratories Report closed a major plant producing the formula in Sturgis, Mich., after recalling several of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCar products.
"Unfortunately, many of those very specialized formulas are only made in the United States at the factory that had the recall, and that's caused a huge problem for a relatively small number of infants," Dr. Steven Abrams of the University of Texas, Austin, told the Associated Press.
What Are Parents With Babies To Do?
With the plant closure now starting to catch up with what can be found in stores, many parents have taken to social media to describe the challenges they face trying to secure baby formula — many posted photos of empty shelves and described children developing symptoms over having to make a sudden change to an unfamiliar formula.
"For babies who are not being breastfed, this is the only thing they eat," Abrams said. "So it has to have all of their nutrition and, furthermore, it needs to be properly prepared so that it’s safe for the smallest infants."
Both Abbott and the FDA have repeatedly issued statements about how they're working to solve the problem.
"We are working to increase the supply of infant formula by prioritizing infant formula production at our facilities that provide product to the US market," Abbott said in a statement to CNN Business.
But in the meantime, parents are facing a difficult situation in which the formulas they need are becoming increasingly hard to find. Taylor Miller, a Texas mother of a four-month-old, recently reported feeding her daughter Magnolia two ounces every two hours instead of four ounces every four hours in order to avoid even the slightest spoilage.
"Never did I think I would ever be rationing formula," Miller told CBS News. "[...] We'll literally waste a whole tank of gas in a day trying to find formula and maybe only find one can."