Apr 6, 2022 - Economy

Families grappling with baby formula shortages

Percentage of baby formula out of stock
Data: Datasembly; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Parents and caregivers looking for baby formula are facing increasingly dire shortages owing to supply chain challenges and a massive recall.

  • 29% of baby formula inventory was out of stock nationally the week of March 13, up from 18% when the year started and 3% a year earlier, according to data analyzed for Axios by consumer product data analytics firm Datasembly.

Why it matters: About 3 in 4 babies are fed formula by six months old as a complete or partial substitute for human milk.

What they're saying: “The out-of-stocks we’re seeing here are moving very quickly and affecting many shoppers,” Datasembly CEO Ben Reich tells Axios.

  • "Infant formula manufacturers are actively working with suppliers, distributors, retailers and state agencies to ensure availability and access to infant formula products, to quickly address the needs of babies everywhere," the Infant Nutrition Council of America said in a statement.

Between the lines: Production problems or distribution issues — depending on whom you ask — started the shortages in 2021. But a sweeping recall of Abbott Nutrition products has exacerbated the situation.

  • The FDA last week warned Americans not to use recalled Similac, Alimentum or EleCare powdered infant formulas made at Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan, plant after the agency found evidence of a food-borne pathogen there.
  • At least four babies have reportedly gotten ill after they consumed the products, the FDA says.

The other side: Abbott said in a statement that the FDA's testing and its own testing "have not found any Cronobacter Sakazakii or Salmonella in any of our ... distributed products."

  • "We hope that these findings give parents, caregivers and our other stakeholders renewed confidence in our products," Abbott said. "That said, we will continue to enhance our manufacturing and quality processes to ensure that our products remain free of Cronobacter Sakazakii and Salmonella.

Of note: Before the recall, manufacturers were blaming retailers for failing to adequately distribute the product, while retailers were blaming producers for not making enough, the Wall Street Journal reported in January.

  • The FDA says it's "intensified" its ongoing effort to ensure adequate supplies, "reaching out to infant formula manufacturers and their trade groups" to ensure adequate supplies and will "consider all tools available to support the supply of infant formula products."

The impact: Families can switch formula brands but should do so cautiously, ensuring that the formulation is the same, pediatrician Katie Lockwood told the Today show in February.

  • "Be sure to consult a child’s pediatrician on all infant feeding options," the Infant Nutrition Council of America said.

What we’re watching: Whether manufacturers can ramp up production or retailers can sort through delivery issues to alleviate the shortages.

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