Tuesday, February 27

Baby formula shortage worsens as out-of-stock levels reach 40% in half of U.S. states

A nationwide shortage of baby formula is particularly acute in some U.S. states, where parents report going to stores in search of the product only to find empty shelves.

At retailers across the U.S., 43% of the top-selling baby formula products were out of stock as of the week ending May 8, according to the most recent analysis from Datasembly, which tracks baby formula stock at more than 11,000 stores. Formula was even scarcer in five states, where more than half of the top-selling products were missing from stores. 

White House press secretary Jenn Psaki on Monday said the Food and Drug Administration is “working around the clock to address any possible shortages” and will look into importing foreign baby formula to meet domestic demand. The FDA said it is working with infant formula manufacturers to boost supplies.

A nearly empty baby formula display shelf is seen at a
Retailers across the U.S. have struggled to stock enough baby formula, causing some chains to limit customer purchases. 

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The five states with the highest levels of sold-out baby formula products include:

  • Tennessee (54% of top-selling products sold out)
  • Texas (53%)
  • Iowa (50-51%)
  • North Dakota (50-51%)
  • South Dakota (50-51%)

Out-of-stock levels hovered between 40% and 50% in another 25 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., according to Datasembly’s analysis. 

The thinnest supplies of baby formula were to be found in San Antonio, Texas, where as of late April 57% products were unavailable, according to Datasembly. 

Widespread formula shortages stem from COVID-19-related supply-chain snarls, and were exacerbated when Abbott, the largest supplier of formula in the U.S., in February was forced to recall several major brands and close a manufacturing plant over contamination concerns. The recall occurred after four babies who consumed formula from the facility suffered bacterial infections. Two of the infants died. 

Rationing formula

Retailers, including CVS Health, Walgreens and Target, are rationing their supply of formula and limiting the quantities of product customers may purchase at a given time. Other makers of baby formula have limited capacity and have struggled to close the gap in the market.

Laura Modi, CEO and co-founder of Bobbie, a direct-to-consumer infant formula brand, has temporarily stopped selling product to new customers, in order to fulfill the needs of existing subscribers. 

“Despite an unprecedented formula shortage compounded by an unsteady supply chain and the nationwide recall of Similac, we are committed to ensuring our current Bobbie customers have a reliable source of infant formula for their babies,” the company said in a statement on its website. “This means our store is temporarily at capacity for new customers.”

Her own company’s sales skyrocketed practically overnight after the Abbott recall. 

Abbott recalls some infant formula after reports of illnesses


“Ever since, we have seen an increase in people turning to Bobbie for formula,” Modi said. “Because we saw a huge increase in our growth since, we decided to close our storefront and instead prioritize serving our current subscribers.” 

That’s to ensure that no existing Bobbie babies go hungry. “If you sign up, we make a commitment that we have enough product to be able to serve you,” she said. 

With 70,000 subscribers, the company is currently at capacity. 

“The tension in this industry is you can’t just get new manufacturing online with the flick of a switch, due to safety and quality requirements,” Modi said. “It takes a long time to grow capacity.” 

DIY warning

Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics, advised parents not to make their own formula when they come up empty at retail stores. 

“Definitely do not make homemade formula. It’s not going to work out, and the baby is going to be malnourished,” she told CBS News. 

She advised parents to instead to look for store-brand products from places like Target, Kroger and Costco. “Store brands are excellent …. They are all FDA approved,” Hes said. 

— With reporting from the Associated Press

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