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Less than two months after an infant formula recall, retailers are reporting shortages, with some stores rationing sales.
According to an analysis by Datasembly, which assessed supplies at more than 11,000 stores, nearly 30% of popular infant formula brands could be sold at retailers in the United States.
That’s a higher standard than other products, said Ben Reich, CEO of the Tysons, Va.-based research company.
“Inflation, supply chain shortages and product recalls have brought unprecedented volatility to the category, and we expect infant formula to continue to be one of the hardest hit categories. market,” he said.
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The shortage comes after Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled in mid-February certain lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas manufactured in Sturgis, Michigan. The recall was expanded in late February to include a lot of Similac PM 60/40.
The Food and Drug Administration said two weeks ago that the formula maker failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at that plant.
Limited formula supplies
But formula supplies were limited before the recall.
Krishnakumar Davey, president of strategic analytics at IRI, told the Wall Street Journal that formula shortages are intermittent and vary by retailer and location. Davey said some of the nation’s top 10 retailers had more than 20% of infant formula out of stock the week ending Jan. 2.
“Product supply issues are currently impacting much of the retail industry,” CVS Health, owner of the pharmacy chain, said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We continue to work with our national brand infant formula suppliers to resolve this issue and we regret any inconvenience our customers may experience.”
Walgreens is limiting shoppers to three infant and toddler formula per transaction “to help improve inventory,” the company said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Due to increased demand and various supplier issues, infant and toddler formula is experiencing constraints across the country,” its statement said.
Nearly 75% of infants receive formula at 6 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
“Working full time trying to find Similac”
After visiting three different stores in one day, Elyssa Schmier, vice president of government relations for the advocacy group MomsRising, “suddenly realized that my formula was nowhere to be found. … It’s almost a full-time job trying to find Similac.”
After experiencing the nationwide shortage first-hand, Schmier hosted an Instagram Live chat on Friday with Brian Dittmeier, who is the senior director of public policy for the National WIC Association.
Manufacturers “are listening to this and we understand that in all areas people are increasing production,” Dittmeier said.
“Now it’s not like flipping a switch,” he said. “We will likely continue to see shortages over the next couple of weeks. But hopefully as production ramps up later this spring it should be easier for families across the country.”
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Formula out-of-stock rates are increasing
Datasembly’s analysis found that in the first seven months of 2021 infant formula supplies were “relatively stable” with stock-outs of between 2-8%. But over the following months, it continued to worsen, Reich said, as out-of-stock rates rose by double digits and reached 23% in late January.
The stock-out situation started to affect infant formula in July 2021, varying between 2-8% and continued to worsen in 2022.
According to Datasembly, among the states most affected by infant formula supply shortages, Minnesota had the highest stock-out percentage for the week of March 13 at 54%, followed by Connecticut, Hawaii, from Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Texas, all at 40% or more.
Cities with the highest stock-out rates: San Antonio (56%), Minneapolis (55%) and Des Moines (50%) for the week of March 13. Houston, New Orleans and Oahu were above 45%.
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