Baby drinking a bottle of formula
Source: Getty Images

Baby Formula Becomes the Supply Chain's Newest Shortage Victim


Nov. 17 2021, Published 11:34 a.m. ET

Businesses across the globe are preparing for a consumer surge as shopping picks up for the pending holiday season, but suppliers can't keep up.

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In 2020 and 2021, supply chain issues have led to isolated instances of household supplies not being available. However, baby formula is the latest item on the list.

Empty baby formula shelves
Source: Getty Images
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Baby formula is expensive and in high demand

Many people might recall bulk buying and panic buying that occurred at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The public overreacted and people didn't know how long shutdowns were going to last. People reacted emotionally by buying items in bulk like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, baby formula, diapers, and water. The panic buying led to a shortage when there wasn't a logistical one in the first place.

Baby formula locked in response to high theft and resale
Source: Getty Images
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Many parents felt emotionally and mentally discouraged because they couldn't find even one can of formula for their baby, let alone 20 cans in a bulk buy. Baby formula is expensive and a theft target. The Organized Retail Crime Survey reported in 2020 that baby formula accounts for 13 percent of items stolen from stores.

The driving factor for baby formula theft is the inability to pay and resale opportunities. For example, a couple in Alabama plead guilty to selling $300,000 worth of stolen baby formula online. The desire to resale a very high-demand product is also driving the shortage.

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How stores are handling the baby formula shortage

Baby formula brands on a shelf in a grocery store
Source: Getty Images

Stores like Walgreens have spoken about the issue. The stores are doing their best to restock shelves as quickly as possible to meet the demand. The stores realize that it’s extremely difficult to restock what they simply don’t have. Reckitt Benckiser, the owner of Mead Johnson Nutrition, which makes Enfamil formula, stated that the company has more than enough supply for all babies to “get the nutrition they need.”

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Enfamil is one of the most popular brands of baby formula. Enfamil tailors its formula to meet the specific needs of babies with allergy or digestion issues. Enfamil Enspire Gentlease helps release gas and relieve upset stomachs in infants, while Enfamil PurAmino is for babies deficient in nutrition due to severe food allergies.

Given how specifically each formula is tailored, it isn't always easy or preferable for parents to just swap out one brand or mix for another without knowing how it will affect their child. The impact alone makes this shortage much more worrisome for parents.

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baby drinking formula
Source: Getty Images

Alternative methods for worried parents

Other than traveling to as many grocery stores as possible, The New York Times reported alternative ways to get formula like diaper banks or [in a last-ditch effort] reaching out to your baby’s pediatrician. Dr. Anthony Porto, a pediatric gastroenterologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Yale University, stated that pediatricians might have samples or have the ability to directly contact companies to help parents fill the gap before their child runs out.

Porto also warned against diluting formula with extra water because it can prevent the child from getting the full benefits. Still, the biggest hope for solving the shortage would be for the release in the supply chain congestion, which will hopefully happen soon due to the gravity of the situation.


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