The United States is experiencing a shortage of baby formula that has worsened since last year, forcing retailers to limit the number of products consumers can purchase in order to preserve their inventories.
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Over 30% of the national baby formula inventory was out of stock last month, up from 23% in January and 11% in November last year, according to Datasembly, a consumer products data analytics firm.
“Inflation, supply chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,” said Datasembly CEO Ben Reich. “We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions.”
The shortage began in 2021 when supply chain and distribution problems were plaguing nearly every sector of the economy, and it has steadily worsened since. In addition, major formula maker Abbott Laboratories issued a major recall of its product Similac after reports of at least four babies being diagnosed with a rare but severe bacterial infection that led to two infant deaths.
“Baby formula stock has been one of the more affected categories so far in 2022, and one that will continue to demonstrate higher-than-average out-of-stock levels,” Reich said.
About 84% of mothers start out breastfeeding their infant, and 42% begin supplementing with formula at some point in their baby’s first year.
Major retailers such as Walgreens, CVS Health, and Target have begun rationing the amount that customers can purchase at a time. At Target.com, for instance, customers can buy a maximum of four products per transaction.
Securing formula has been extremely burdensome for many parents who have had to try several different retailers before successfully finding their babies’ formula. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Sarah Pirro said that she spent about eight hours searching on depleted shelves in her area for her 10-month-old’s food.
“It was like having another full-time job, honestly, trying to feed my son, and we found one can — one can in eight hours. It was insane," Pirro told WNEP.
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In Phoenix, Arizona, meanwhile, Jessica Contreras has been forced to turn to social media sites to petition other mothers for help procuring formula for her six-month-old son Hartford.
“It was beyond what I ever imagined; when I posted on Facebook, I really thought I was just asking my friends and family to keep an eye out when they went to the store,” Contreras told the local CBS affiliate. “Within days, I had moms not only in Arizona but throughout the country offering to help me.”
Fellow mothers on Facebook helped Contreras find the right formula for her son, and she now has enough for a few months.