Shortage of infant formula set to persist for weeks more

Infant formula will remain hard to find until at least mid-July, industry executives have said, despite efforts by manufacturers, the White House and regulators to ease a months-long shortage.

The maker of Similac, the biggest infant formula brand by sales in the United States, resumed production Saturday at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, for the first time since February. This factory had produced around a fifth of the nation’s infant formula and left many shelves empty when it issued a recall and suspended operations nearly four months ago.

The Abbott factory’s first production runs will include only specialty formulas for children with allergies or serious medical conditions, reaching healthcare providers, hospitals and consumers around June 20. After increasing supply of these varieties, such as EleCare Jr., Abbott will transition to regular Similac formula production, with supplies hitting stores several weeks later, a person familiar with the matter said.

A nationwide shortage of infant formula is forcing some desperate parents to drive hours in search of supplies. Dr. Steven Abrams, a pediatrician at the University of Texas at Austin, explains what parents should and shouldn’t do during the crisis. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

Meanwhile, about 20% to 25% of formula products remain out of stock in U.S. stores last week, according to market research firm IRI. Shortages are more acute in some states, including rural areas of Kansas, Minnesota, Texas, Utah and Alaska, according to IRI data.

“We haven’t seen any type of recovery yet,” said Arthur Ackles, vice president of merchandising and buying for retailer Roche Bros.

Massachusetts-based Roche Bros. has faced sporadic formula shortages since February, and the chain continues to receive a fraction of the quantities it orders, Ackles said. Roche suppliers, he said, did not say when their inventory will improve.

Efforts by the Biden administration in recent weeks to airlift baby formula from other countries have so far introduced hypoallergenic varieties, officials said. Regular infant formula shipments are expected to start arriving on June 9 from two manufacturers in the UK and Australia, totaling enough powder to make about 9 million 8-ounce bottles, the White House said.

Officials said British and Australian brands would continue to send additional shipments, up to the equivalent of around 80 million 8-ounce bottles. The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that Nestlé on

will also ship Gerber Formula from Mexico to manufacture 33 million 8-ounce bottles, which are expected to be available July through October.

In a typical week, U.S. consumers buy enough powdered formula to make more than 50 million 8-ounce bottles, according to IRI sales and price data.

President Biden held a virtual meeting Wednesday with baby formula makers at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC

Photo:
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Efforts to ramp up production at other plants in the United States made up for much of the loss of the Abbott plant being offline, the White House said last month. But that was not enough to meet the growing demand. From January 1 to May 8, sales volumes of powdered infant formula in the United States increased by 5%, according to IRI. The full-year growth rate was 1.5% in 2021 and 0.4% in 2020.

Health practitioners said more parents have relied on formula milk rather than breastfeeding since the start of the pandemic. More recently, some consumers have been stockpiling, compounding supply issues, retailers said.

In Georgia, Savannah Grider said she had had no luck finding formula for her 10-month-old daughter. About three weeks ago, she said, a friend from North Dakota started sending her formula, which remains in storage at the military base where Ms. Grider’s friend lives.

Ms Grider said she tried to limit how often she fed formula and tried more solid foods because her daughter had had stomach problems trying different brands.

Some retailers said there were early signs of improvement. Giant Eagle Inc., a Pennsylvania-based supermarket chain, said pressure is easing on some products, while Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. said it expects to get more of products, including Gerber and Enfamil, in the coming weeks, if not days. Hy-Vee said it received deliveries of Similac formula last weekend and will receive more this weekend.

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But Kroger Co.

the largest U.S. supermarket company by sales, said infant formula supplies have not improved significantly and the chain still enforces a purchase limit of four containers per customer.

At Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc., the nation’s largest wholesaler with more than 3,000 grocery stores, chief executive David Smith said there’s been little change in formula supply in recent weeks, even whether its suppliers said European products had entered US supply. chain.

Roche Bros. receives deliveries of formula once a week, when daily deliveries were the norm before the shortage began, Ackles said, adding that hoarding among consumers made the problem worse earlier in the year. Roche’s stores these days don’t have enough products for shoppers to stock up on, but Mr Ackles said he fears panic buying will pick up when supplies improve.

Shortage of infant formula set to persist for weeks more

Increased production at other US factories made up for much of the loss of the Abbott factory being offline, but it was not enough to meet growing demand.

Photo:
Amy Katz/Zuma Press

Amanda Dolly, who has two 10-month-old boys, said she is seeing more formula in her stores nearby, but not the hypoallergenic kind she needs for one of her sons.

“He escapes from [regular formula] really bad,” said Ms. Dolly, who lives in Enterprise, W.Va. She said she was considering giving her son almond milk after using the two cans of formula she received from ‘a friend.

Leah McGrath, corporate dietitian at Ingles Markets, a North Carolina-based grocer Inc.,

said she did not notice an immediate difference in supply after some products were flown in from overseas. Instead, she says, she sees some people trying to sell multiple boxes of formula they’ve purchased, and some parents getting ripped off by such sellers.

“I don’t think the level of worry and panic has gone down at all,” she said.

Shortage of infant formula

Write to Annie Gasparro at [email protected] and Jaewon Kang at [email protected]

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