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Baby formula shortage worsens: Why is there a limit on buying infant formula?

A combination of supply chain issues and a major manufacturer recall has depleted supplies of baby formula and left many stores completely out of stock.

Update:
Suppliers impose purchasing limits as baby formula shortage worsens
JIM WATSONGetty

A number of major retailers in the United States have imposed new purchasing restrictions on infant formula in response to a worrying supply shortage.

Last month CVS said it was limiting both in-store and online purchases of baby formula to three per order, following a similar cap introduced by Walgreens in March. Kroger has opted for a four-item limit per customer while Target has also placed restrictions on order size.

The shortage has been exacerbated by a product recall from top supplier Abbott Laboratories back in February that has reduced the supply significantly. Baby formula products, including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, have been recalled owing to concerns about bacterial infections in a small number of infants who came into contact with the products.

Why is there a shortage of baby formula?

The baby food shortage has arisen from a confluence of factors that have exhausted supplies. The supply chain issues that have plagued the post-pandemic recovery have made it harder to source certain ingredients used to make the formula, while staff shortages have made production and transportation more difficult.

For essential products like baby formula, the demand is likely to remain high regardless of the price point, meaning that there has been no drop-off in demand as the products become more scare. It can be difficult to find a formula that appeals to your child, so parents are often very reluctant to switch from their preferred manufacturer.

Another key factor has been the recall of three types of baby formula in recent months. Abbott Nutrition has issued a voluntary recalls of the widely-used Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas due to four infant hospitalisations.

The recall was ordered as a precautionary measure but it has had a major effect on product availability. Similac is the leading supplier of milk formula in the United States and boasted a market share of 42% last year.

How can I find baby formula in the US?

After the recall went into effect earlier this year there have been widespread shortages; data firm Datasembly confirmed that in April around 40% of baby formula products were out of stock across the US.

In response to the crisis, the Biden administration has set up a new website designed to answer parents’ questions regarding the shortage.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that the new website, HHS.gov/formula, would provide “resources and places that parents can go to obtain formula, including contacts with companies, food banks [and] health care providers.”

The website has answers for a number of frequently asked questions regarding formula milk, as well as contact details for baby formula manufacturers like Gerber, Reckitt and Abbott.