The Infant Formula Shortage Is Terrifying Parents

Some are paying exorbitant prices, driving across state lines to get formula
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2022 12:11 AM CDT
The Baby Formula Shortage Is Scaring Parents
In this Tuesday, July 19, 2011, file photo, Similac baby formula is displayed on the shelves at Shaker's IGA in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

Across the US, parents are becoming increasingly desperate as an infant formula shortage grows worse. While the in-stock and out-of-stock rates don't appear to be nearing crisis levels, anecdotally, parents are sharing how difficult it is to find the products they need to feed their children—and days ago, major retailers started instituting limits on purchases. The latest:

  • The shelves: The New York Times describes retail stores where "shelves are often empty," and Facebook groups alerting parents to when and where inventory has been restocked. Politico notes that while it seems "these incidents are sporadic and regional, it’s disconcerting for caregivers and can lead to panic buying."
  • The numbers: Per a custom analysis by Datasembly, the average out-of-stock percentage for formula across the US went from 31% to 40% over the past two weeks. Another data analytics company found that the average in-stock rate is currently about 79% across the country. But the shortages are definitely worse in some areas than others.

  • The limits: CVS and Walgreens are limiting shoppers to three formula products per transaction. Target is limiting online purchases to four formula products at a time, but is not limiting in-store purchases, CNN reports. Costco also has formula limits listed on its website, and images of limits posted at some Walmart stores have been posted to social media.
  • The problems: There are a number of factors at work. "This issue has been compounded by supply chain issues, product recalls and historic inflation," the Datasembly CEO says. Axios says the shortage started last year, and that both production problems and distribution issues have been blamed. But the recent recall of Abbott Nutrition products and subsequent shutdown of one of its plants has played a big role.
  • The biggest worry: While stories abound of parents paying astronomical prices for formula from resellers or driving to neighboring states to find formula, the largest concern appears to be centered around the infants, and even older children and adults, who require specialty formulas due to rare medical conditions. The closed Abbott plant is a major producer of those types of formulas, and there's no indication when it will resume operations. Says one woman whose 5-year-old son gets 100% of his nutrition from one such amino acid formula, "If this doesn't get fixed soon, I don't know how my son will survive." Politico has more on that here.
  • "The lives of ... infants are on the line": That's the warning from the senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, the nonprofit that provides nutritional assistance for women, infants, and children in the US and that relies heavily on Abbott's products. "Unlike other food recalls, shortages in the infant formula supply affects a major—or even exclusive—source of nutrition for babies," he says, adding that "long-term health implications" are a serious danger.
(Read more baby formula stories.)

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