Skip to main content

Retailers Grapple With Baby Formula Shortage

Supply chain woes, product recalls cause 43% out-of-stock rate
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Baby formula out-of-stocks have been caused by supply chain issues and a recall of products made by Abbott Nutrition.

The baby bottleneck continues, with grocers around the country fielding questions from parents concerned about infant formula shortages. As media stories about such shortages swirl, retail data firm Datasembly reported that the nationwide out-of-stock rate reached 43% for the week ending May 8.  

The high out-of-stock rates for baby formula are attributable to a variety of factors. “This issue has been compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation. The category started to see stocking challenges beginning in July 2021, and the situation has continued to worsen into 2022,” shared Ben Reich, CEO of Washington D.C.-based Datasembly.

The recall in question occurred in February, as several product lots under Abbott Nutrition's Similac, Alimentum and EleCare brands were pulled from store shelves due to concerns about potential contamination with the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii. An infant who tested positive for that pathogen had reportedly consumed formula from a Similac PM 60/40 lot, although the source of the infection was not confirmed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported in March that no distributed product had tested positive for that bacteria.

Still, the FDA has yet to approve Abbott Laboratories’ move to resume production of baby formulas at its Sturgis, Mich., facility. In the meantime, the company has been relying on products made in other facilities overseas.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki weighed in on the shortages during a briefing with reporters this week. “Ensuring the availability of these products is also a priority for the FDA, and they are working around the clock to address any possible shortage,” she remarked, adding, “So what they’re trying to do — in the shorthand of it — is increase supply by working with a range of manufacturers in what their capacity is to ensure that the kinds of formula that is — was recalled is — where they’re able to help ensure it’s on the shelves.

As supplies have languished, retailers, including Kroger, Walmart, Target, Walgreens and CVS, among others, have taken the step of imposing purchase limits. “Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler formulas are seeing constraint across the country. Similar to other retailers, we put into effect purchase limits of three per transaction on all infant and toddler formula to help improve inventory. We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands,” a statement from Walgreens read.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds