Supply chain struggles impacting availability of baby formula

A shortage of baby formula has some parents scrambling to find what their babies need.
A shortage of baby formula has some parents scrambling to find what their babies need.(KWCH)
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 11:50 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Supply chain struggles are now impacting a critically important item for many new parents. Not only is it becoming more difficult to find baby formula on store shelves, but a growing number of retailers are also limiting how much of it people can buy. Two reasons provided are production issues and a major recall of baby formula that happened in February.

As formula is an item many new parents can’t go without, the situation has them going from store to store, to retailers including Walgreens, CVS, Target and Kroger.

“A couple of weeks ago, I’d gone to Target, cause I like the brand that they have there and there was no formula, from any brand,” said Charyl Dezotell.

Wichita mother Charyl Dezotell is among many struggling amid the baby formula shortage.

“As an adult, if I couldn’t find chicken, I could just find a different protein. But for a baby, for an infant, if I can’t find formula at all, then I’m in a lot of trouble.”

Looking at empty shelves in the baby aisle of local stores, Dezotell, a mother of two, said she “didn’t panic entirely, but [she] was a little on edge.”

“So, I check different apps, different stores, and they had something similar at Dillons,” she said.

Dezotell tries to keep plenty of formula in the house for her 11-month-old.

“Try to make sure I have enough to get me through at least a month,” she said.

But with stores not having what she needs, Dezotell has been frustrated trying to keep up that supply.

“I don’t necessarily need to buy anymore, but I’m still checking the shelves because I have friends who have babies,” she said.

Dezotell said part of it is about consistency with the formula used for the baby’s health.

“If I switch to like a different formula within the same brand, she’ll have a different reaction to that, so I try to stay to the one she does well with,” she said.

The Treehouse is one organization in Wichita addressing the need.

“We definitely had moms calling in a panic, texting, reaching out through Facebook, saying that they were running low, they can’t find it, they can’t afford it,” said The Treehouse Executive Director Karey Padding.

The Treehouse provides educational classes and resources to mothers and newborns. That includes a formula closet that was hit hard by February’s recall of baby formula made by Abbott, including the popular brand Similac. Wednesday, they mailed out boxes of the recalled formula to the manufacturer seeking a refund or replacement.

“We had to get rid of five to six boxes of sample formula that had been donated, that we can’t return for a refund, we can’t get money back. We just had to throw it away.” Padding said, “The stuff that we could send in, is being sent back.”

Padding said much of the closet has been restocked through community donations.

“On our social media to say hey, we need help. Our formula has been depleted, we have to get rid of half our formula closet and we have moms and babies in desperate need. They couldn’t get it from WIC. They were running short, so they were coming to us for help,” said Padding.

The Treehouse’s own ability to purchase formula has changed.

Padding said, “We used to be able to order it in bulk and it wasn’t an issue but now we can only order a few cans at a time and then have to go in a place a new order, and it’s just more costly.”

Datasembly, which tracks baby formula stock at stores in the U.S. released an update Wednesday that there is a 31% out-of-stock rate for formula. This time last year, that out-of-stock rate was between 2% and 8%.

Dezotell said with an 11-month-old, a positive is that while formula is important, it is becoming a smaller part of her daughter’s diet.

“But if she was younger, then I would be really concerned,” Dezotell said. “And I thought about that, if this happened six months ago, I’d kind of be in trouble.”

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