Baby Formula Is Hard to Find. Brands and Stores Are Divided Over Why.

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Walmart and CVS blame their suppliers, but the makers of Similac and Enfamil blame the retailers

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“The shelves are just bare,” said Darval Kenny, 65, of Rye, N.Y., who is trying to help find Similac formula for two infant grandchildren who live in Connecticut and New Jersey. “To me, there must be an uproar. “

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Ms Kenny, whose grandchildren are five and six months old, said she has driven to stores in her county and neighboring Connecticut and placed an order on Amazon last week that has yet to be delivered. She said that although she hasn’t been able to find the premixed formula bottles her grandson uses, she has found powdered versions, she said.

Krishnakumar Davy, president of strategic analytics at retail research firm IRI, said shortages are intermittent and vary by retailer and location. Nationwide, stock levels for infant formula and food are slightly higher than for food products as a whole. However, Mr Davey said, some of the country’s 10 largest retailers had more than 20% out of baby formula stock in the week ending January 2, which is typical in recent months. He added that a stock rate above 10% is considered a problem.

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According to the IRI, Americans spent $4.3 billion on baby formula in 2021, up 4.5% from 2020, due to an increase in both volumes and prices.

Retailers are struggling to predict demand in different locations, as many Americans relocate and spend longer periods away from home during the pandemic. Meanwhile, manufacturers are grappling with shortage of staff and materials and packaging material. Supply-chain issues due to the pandemic have disrupted the flow of everything from Nike sneakers to Ford pickup trucks.

The Infant Nutrition Council of America, an industry group representing infant formula manufacturers, said the problem is not on the manufacturing side. “There is no shortage of infant formula supplies by manufacturers,” group executive director Robert Rankin said in an emailed statement.

“Broadly speaking, there are reports of some anecdotal evidence suggesting pantry-loading behavior across retail supply chains, from transportation and logistics, can increase pressure on in-store inventory,” said a spokesperson for the group.

Even intermittent shortages can prompt parents to stockpile, said Laura Modi, co-founder of Bobby, an online organic baby-formula startup. She said her company has seen an influx of demand from parents troubled by the lack of availability of big-name formula brands. “It can take a post in a Facebook moms group to send one into a panic,” she said.

Enfamil maker Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC said last week that the company has sufficient supplies and declined to comment further. On Twitter, Enfamil’s customer-service representatives have told parents that the company is “experiencing disruptions in the production and shipping of some of our products as the pandemic continues to cause problems with the supply chain.” In November and December, Enfamil tweeted that some products would be out of stock for “an extended period.”

Abbott Laboratories,

The manufacturer of Similac Formula said that the company is doing “everything we can to ensure continuous and uninterrupted delivery of our products.”

In an email to Ms. Kenny, an Abbott customer-service representative wrote on Tuesday that the company is “experiencing slow shipping of our products” and is “working with all of our manufacturing and distribution sites to improve staff levels.” and to accommodate demand and production programs to improve the overall situation.”

“We expect to see continued improvement in the coming months,” the representative said.

Nestle SA, which manufactures Gerber formula, sent questions to the Council on Infant Nutrition.

A CVS spokesperson said the supply-chain challenges are on the manufacturing side, ranging from difficulty in sourcing raw materials to delays in delivery of finished products. He added that CVS has an ample supply of its store-brand formulas. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

Said shortages are usually temporary or isolated and the company is working with formula manufacturers to ensure adequate supplies.

Walmart and Target Corporation

Company representatives said there are also out-of-stock issues with baby formula. “This is really an industrywide challenge for the main suppliers: Abbott, Reckitt and Nestle,” said a Walmart spokesperson.

Some retailers said they saw no evidence of stockpiling.

Formula shortages are especially challenging for families because switching from one product to another can cause digestive upset, and some babies have specific nutritional needs. For many babies, formula is the only source of nutrition until they are six months old. And for others, it is an important supplement to breast milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cow’s milk is not recommended for babies until 12 months of age.

“I felt very frustrated,” said Krista Parker, who uses formula to supplement breast milk for her 6-month-old son, Noah.

Since late last summer, the Similac formula Ms Parker loved was often out of stock at her local Target. For a time, he found formula on a target located about 45 minutes from his Jacksonville, Fla., home, but he soon ran out of stock there, too. He began changing types and brands, adding whatever he could afford, but doing so only exacerbated his son’s digestive problems. In November, she switched to an online-subscription startup and stuck with that.

“I did slim picking,” said Ms. Parker. “I went to the store one day and walked down the formula aisle, and it looked like [it did] at the beginning of the pandemic. ,

Write Jennifer Maloney at [email protected] and Sharon Terlep at [email protected]

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