Baby formula is the latest in a series of products to become scarce on retail shelves.
For months, securing baby formula has been a struggle, as supply-chain setbacks have taken a toll, but those problems were compounded when Abbott Nutrition, a unit of Abbott Laboratories ABT, -0.31% that produces formula under the brand names Similac, EleCare and Alimentum, recalled products in February.
Abbott asked consumers to return products due to contamination concerns at a Michigan plant that it said could cause a rare, but high-risk, infection. “If your infant is experiencing symptoms?related to Cronobacter or Salmonella? infection,?such as poor feeding, irritability, temperature changes, jaundice, grunting breaths, abnormal movements, lethargy, rash, or blood in the urine or stool; contact your health care provider to report their symptoms and receive immediate care,” the company said in its recall announcement.
The percentage of out-of-stock rates for baby formula started climbing last July but saw a sharp increase last November, according to Datasembly, a retail data company. Last month, 31% of formula products made by different brands were out of stock nationwide, an increase of 11 percentage points since November. And in a few major metro areas — Minneapolis, Des Moines and San Antonio — more than half of baby-formula products were out of stock.
“‘Inflation, supply-chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula.’”
“Inflation, supply-chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,” Datasembly founder and CEO Ben Reich said in a statement. “We expect to continue to see the baby-formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions.”
To manage inventory, drugstore chains CVS CVS, -0.52% and Walgreens WBA, -1.00% issued restrictions on purchases — limiting shoppers to three products at a time, and said they were working with vendors and suppliers to secure more supply.
Buy Buy Baby, Walmart WMT, -1.25% and Target TGT, -1.93% did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment.
A spokeswoman for Abbott told MarketWatch: “We are doing everything we can to address the infant formula supply shortage. Across the U.S., we’re prioritizing production of infant formula products to help replenish the supply in the market and are also air shipping in product from our FDA-registered facility in Cootehill, Ireland, on a daily basis. All of this powder product is being restocked on retail shelves on a regular basis.”
Baby formula, or infant formula, has a shelf life of up to one year if a product is unopened. However, once opened, the product should be used within one month, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and within 24 hours if mixed with water. Usually used in place of or in combination with breastfeeding, it provides most nutritional needs of babies.
In the face of the shortage, Google GOOG, +2.54% GOOGL, +2.68% searches for alternatives to baby formula or DIY recipes spiked this week. But pediatricians and professional trade groups — including the American Academy of Pediatricians — strongly advised against making your own.
“‘Although recipes for homemade formulas circulating on the internet may seem healthy or less expensive, they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs.’”
“Although recipes for homemade formulas circulating on the internet may seem healthy or less expensive, they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs,” Steven Abrams, a board-certified pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote for a Healthy Children column.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning last year that some babies had been hospitalized suffering from hypocalcemia (or low calcium) because of homemade recipes. “Homemade infant formula recipes have not been evaluated by the FDA and may lack nutrients vital to an infant’s growth,” it said.
Aside from insufficient nutrients, homemade formula also carries the risk of cross-contamination, Abrams warned.
Buying baby formula online from overseas is also not advised, as imported formula is not reviewed by the FDA and consumers cannot be sure that proper shipping and storage policies were adhered to. Mixing more water to conserve powder is also a no-no — as it will likely result in a nutritional imbalance.
Babies under 12 months old have specific needs for nutrients. “The first year of life is a key time for your baby’s brain and body to grow,” Abrams wrote, adding that even missing those nutrients for a few days could have long-term effects on development.
Experts say that parents should always turn to their own pediatrician for help before making new decisions about feeding their baby. For most babies without dietary restrictions, Abrams said that switching brands should be fine.
The Infant Nutrition Council of America has the following advice for parents who urgently need baby formula. “In emergency situations, local food pantries, churches, shelters and hospital emergency rooms may provide small amounts of infant formula that will be supplied based on need,” it said. “Contact Feeding America or dial 2-1-1 to be connected to a community resource specialist who can help you find local resources. If you have questions or concerns about feeding your infant, please contact your baby’s doctor.”