Supply stores

Shortage of infant formula has some families scrambling

For the past few weeks, following the premature birth of her twins, Maxine and Lawrence, Nguyen has spent hours every day searching the internet or making phone calls trying to find more formula to buy for them. .

“I’m a first-time mom. There’s enough anxiety with it already,” she said. “My husband sees my stress level and he’s worried.”

Nguyen’s twins were born in early December and arrived six weeks early. Although she breastfeeds them, her milk supply is not enough to feed them both enough. Now she fears that the stress will further hamper her milk production.

The twins need a specialized hypoallergenic formula to help them gain weight and get the nutrients they need.

“I can’t find that formula anywhere,” Nguyen said. She checks nearby Walmart, Target and CVS stores daily to find that the product is either out of stock or out of stock, with no clear indication of when it will arrive. She even had to deal with a canceled confirmed order.

“It’s very frustrating and scary,” Nguyen said. “I’ve been looking for it in towns three hours from my house. Why can’t I just go to a store and be able to buy formula?”

Nguyen’s concern was echoed by many parents on Facebook, including those who rely on nutritional assistance programs, such as the special federal Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). They share stories of their frantic efforts to obtain infant formula.

In pursuit of supply

Retailers nationwide are struggling to keep shelves fully stocked with all manner of necessities as supply chain issues persist, slowing both production and distribution of goods. At the same time, consumer demand remains robust.

According to market research firm IRI, store infant formula inventories in mid-January were down 17% from mid-February 2020, just before the pandemic hit US shores.

Pharmacy chain Walgreens, which alerted customers to isolated formula shortages at its stores nationwide in November, said it was still facing tight inventory.

“We continue to see growing demand for infant formula across the country and as a result Walgreens has worked diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have enough supply to cover customer demand,” said the company in a statement to CNN Business. The retailer said shoppers may continue to see temporary or isolated shortages of specific formula products.

A Amazon (AMZN) the spokesperson said the retailer is working closely with its suppliers to get formula products back in stock as quickly as possible, and walmart (WMT)said any formula shortages in its stores were tied to capacity issues on the manufacturers’ side.

Pharmacy operator CVS said supply issues “are currently impacting most of the retail industry”.

“We continue to work with our national brand baby formula suppliers to resolve this issue and regret any inconvenience our customers may experience,” the company said in a statement to CNN Business.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the WIC, said its food and nutrition service is in regular communication with state agencies and has met with formula makers. infants about the issues they are having and their plans to mitigate the supply chain. challenges.

The spokesperson said state WIC agencies have been able to resolve localized issues with formula availability, but the federal agency will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Jennifer Hood, whose eight-month-old daughter needs a specialist formula, is one of many parents struggling to find enough formula in stores.

For Jennifer Hood, not being able to easily find formula for her eight-and-a-half-month-old daughter is more than an inconvenience.

Hood, who works as a speech therapist in a newborn intensive care unit at a DC-area hospital, said she scrambled to find specialized formula for her baby, who is allergic to cow’s milk. , when a recent order has been delayed by more than one month.

Formula is vital to feed her daughter who cannot tolerate breast milk and has been fed formula since she was two months old.

“I drove two and a half hours to find it,” Hood said, “and there was only a box or two of formula left at the store.”

Hood said she’s been aware of families mixing brands, or even diluting a formula to make it last longer. Both tactics can cause digestive problems and be dangerous for infants.

Manufacturers say they have increased production

The Infant Nutrition Council of America, whose members include top formula makers Abbott Nutrition, Reckitt Benckiser and Gerber Products Company, said manufacturers are working to ensure early availability and access to infant formula.

In a statement, the group acknowledged reports of challenges in supply chains, including impacts on transportation, labor and logistics. “CNIB members are committed to meeting the needs of families who depend on infant formula – it is their top priority,” the group said.

Reckitt Benckiser, maker of Enfamil, said he was aware some parents struggled to find the brand of formula they needed.

“We have taken steps to increase production and are currently shipping 30% more product to resolve the issues as quickly as possible,” the company said in a statement. He added that he had an ample supply of his products, but noted that “US infant formula industry sales have increased by 17%, which is more than double the birth and death rates. ‘other predicted indicators’.

Similac maker Abbott said it was operating its production facilities at full capacity 24/7 and was “manufacturing more than ever”. “We encourage families to buy only what they need to ensure that all families can access these essentials to feed their babies,” a company spokesperson said.

That may be the case, but parents of young infants for whom formula is the only source of their current nutritional needs don’t have the option of waiting for gaps in the supply chain to be filled.

The Nguyen twins will need their specialist formula for a few more months. Formula milk represents 90% of their current diet.

She was able to get formula samples from her pediatrician’s office and estimates she has a few weeks of formula in store.

“Sellers need to clearly communicate to stores when they are shipping formula, what day and what month,” Nguyen said. “Retailers need to do better at communicating this to families.”