May 11, 2022
Major U.S. pharmacies recently have restricted sales of baby formula in response to a spiralling shortage of the special milk. CVS and Walgreens are among the big pharmacy chains to have imposed limits on how many cans of baby formula customers can buy at a time, reports the BBC.
The shortages intensified after Abbott— which makes top brand Similac—shut a key factory and issued a recall in February after finding contamination in its supply.
Pressure is building on the Biden Administration to respond to the issue. Republicans—among them, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas)—have called it a “national crisis” that the White House must address.
Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut said she was concerned that the Food and Drug Administration , which regulates formula makers, had responded “far too slowly” to the issue; and to the reports of problems at the Abbott factory in Michigan, which remains closed.
Abbott—the main supplier of baby formula to many of the state government programs for low-income women and children—said it was working with regulators to get the plant re-opened.
The company has been sending extra shipments from a plant in Ireland to try to address the problem—expecting shipments from the country to double this year, it added.
“We know that our recent recall caused additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging situation of a global supply shortage,” the company said in a recent statement.
“We are working hard to help moms, dads and caregivers get the high-quality nutrition they need for their babies.”
As of 24 April, the average out-of-stock rate across the country had jumped to 40%, up from just 30% a few weeks earlier—and 11% in November, according to Datasembly. There were 26 states with out-of-stock rates higher than 40%—compared to just seven states three weeks earlier, it said.
Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler formulas are seeing constraint across the country,” the major pharmacy chain Walgreens said in a statement, adding, “We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands.”
Walgreens has limited families to buying three cans at a time—similar to other retailers. A 12.4 ounce can of formula typically lasts for about 15 bottles—or just a few days’ worth of supply.
Companies that produce items like baby formula—for which demand is typically steady over time—have trouble catching up when there is disruption, said Rudi Leuschner, director of the Masters in Supply Chain Management program at Rutgers Business School.
And as parents rush to buy as stories of empty shelves spread, that only makes the problem worse, he warned. “It’s not a situation where you can just snap out of it,” he said. “It was designed to run at one speed.”
While this year’s formula shortage may expose the fragility of the supply chain, it may not be enough to make a business case for backup inventories, Professor Leuschner added.
Overall, birth rates are falling, reaching the lowest point on record in the United States in 2020. Studies also have found that consumption of infant formula has been declining in favor of breast milk.
Research contact: @BBC