(Trends Wide) — For months now, stores across the country have been struggling to stock up on enough baby formula. Manufacturers say they are producing at full capacity and making as much formula as they can, but it is still not enough to meet current demand.
The stock-out rate for infant formula ranged from 2% to 8% in the first half of 2021, but started to rise sharply last July. Between November 2021 and early April 2022, the stockout rate shot up to 31%, according to data from Datasembly.
That rate jumped another 9% in just three weeks in April, and now stands at 40%, according to statistics. In six states — Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee — more than half of infant formula was completely sold out during the week beginning April 24, according to Datasembly.
And while seven states had 40-50% of infant formula stocks in early April, 26 states are now struggling with supply.
“This issue was exacerbated by supply chain issues, product recalls and historical inflation,” said Datasembly CEO Ben Reich. “Unfortunately, given the unprecedented amount of volatility to the category, we anticipate that infant formula will continue to be one of the hardest hit products on the market.”
CVS confirmed Saturday that it is limiting customers nationwide to three infant and toddler formulas per transaction. “We continue to work diligently with our vendor partners to better meet customer demands,” CVS said in a statement to Trends Wide Business.
A Target spokesperson confirmed that the retailer limited purchases of infant formula to four units per customer for online sales. There is no limit on the number of units that can be purchased in person at Target stores, the company said.
Clients shared images on social media about Walmart placing similar restrictions on its sales of baby formula, though the company did not confirm whether it was a national policy. Images shared with Trends Wide Business show empty shelves where there should be baby formula, and a sign saying only five units per customer were allowed.
Walmart did not immediately respond to a Trends Wide Business request for comment.
The shortage is compounded by the closure of an Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Abbott is one of the leading producers of infant formulas.
In February, the US FDA recalled three brands of powdered infant formula made by the company due to possible bacterial infections, including salmonella. The agency advised parents not to purchase or use certain lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered infant formula, all of which are Abbott brands.
A former Abbott Nutrition employee filed a complaint with the FDA months before the recall, documenting his concern that the company was hiding safety issues at its Sturgis, Michigan plant. The formulas made at the plant were withdrawn after four babies taking them fell ill with rare infections caused by the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii. Two babies died, according to the complaint.
Abbott’s spokesman noted that the recall affected only batches of formulas produced and distributed at its Sturgis, Michigan facility, and said that no other products Abbott distributes had so far tested positive for salmonella or other pathogens.
Finding the standard formula has become difficult for parents, many of whom described the extraordinary efforts they have made to get even a single can or bottle. Specialized formula is even harder to locate amid widespread shortages. Parents are driving to neighboring states to try their luck, and many are asking for help on social media, imploring strangers to share or even trade any extra supplies they might have.
Abbott said in a statement to Trends Wide on Saturday that it is working closely with the FDA to resume operations at its Michigan plant.
“We continue to make progress on corrective actions and will be implementing additional actions as we work to address items related to the recent recall. In the meantime, we are working to increase the supply of infant formula by prioritizing infant formula production at our facilities that supply product to the US market,” Abbott said in a statement to Trends Wide Business.