The infant formula shortage is getting worse

The infant formula stockout rate fluctuated between 2% and 8% in the first half of 2021, but started to rise sharply last July. Between November 2021 and early April 2022, the out-of-stock rate jumped to 31%, Datasembly data showed.

That rate increased another 9 percentage points in just three weeks in April, and is now at 40%, statistics show. In six states — Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee — more than half of infant formula was completely sold out during the week beginning April 24, Datasembly said.

And though seven states had between 40-50% of infant formula products out of stock in early April, 26 states are now struggling with supply.

“This problem has been compounded by supply chain issues, product recalls and historical inflation,” said Datasembly CEO Ben Reich. “Unfortunately, given the unprecedented amount of volatility in the category, we anticipate infant formula to remain one of the hardest hit products on the market.”

CVS and Walgreens confirmed they are limiting customers nationwide to three infant and infant formula per transaction. “We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to better meet customer demands,” Walgreens said in a statement to CNN Business.

A spokesperson for Target confirmed that the retailer limited infant formula purchases to four units per customer for online shopping. There is no limit to the number of units that can be purchased in person at Target stores, the company said.

Customers shared images on social media Walmart imposing similar restrictions on its infant formula sales, although Walmart has not confirmed whether it was a national policy. Images shared with CNN Business show empty shelves where infant formula should be and a sign saying that only five units are allowed per customer.

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN Business.

Whistleblower alerted FDA about alleged safety lapses at infant formula factory months before recalls, complaint shows

The shortage was exacerbated by the Food and Drug Administration’s closure of an Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan. Abbott is a major producer of infant formula.

In February, the US Food and Drug Administration withdrew three brands of powdered infant formula made by the company due to possible bacterial infections, including Salmonella. The agency advised parents not to buy or use certain batches of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered infant formula, all Abbott brands.
A former Abbott Nutrition employee filed a whistleblower complaint with the FDA months before the recall, documenting his concerns that the company was hiding safety issues at its Sturgis, Michigan plant. Formulas manufactured at the facility were taken off the market after four children who drank it became ill with rare infections caused by the Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria. Two children died, according to the complaint.

An Abbott spokesperson noted that the recall only affected batches of formula produced and distributed at its Sturgis, Michigan facility, and said that no other products that Abbott distributes so far have tested positive for Salmonella or other pathogens.

Finding a standard formula became difficult for parents, many of whom described the extraordinary efforts they went to to get a single can or bottle. Specialized formula is even more difficult to locate amid widespread shortages. Parents are driving to neighboring states to try their luck, and many are asking for help on social media, begging strangers to share or even swap any extra supplies they might have.

Abbott told CNN in a statement on Saturday is working closely with the FDA to resume operations at its Michigan plant.

“We continue to make progress on corrective actions and will implement additional actions as we work to address items related to the recent recall. Meanwhile, we are working to increase infant formula supply by prioritizing infant formula production at our facilities that supply products to the US market,” Abbott said in a statement to CNN Business.

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