A lack of infant formula may leave parents scrambling for months

Baby formula manufacturers and retailers say they are working to address the problem Long-term shortage of products on store shelves, but the difficulties facing American families can take months to subside.

Abbott LaboratoriesAnd

ABT 2.01%

Baby formula producer Similac said it is bringing products from its plant in Ireland to the United States as it continues its talks with the Food and Drug Administration to… Re-production in its factory in Michigan. However, the company said it will take weeks before the factory’s products are available on store shelves.

Competitors are trying to speed up production, but there are still challenges getting supplies to the right places. Many retail chains Continuing to ration supplies By placing strict limits on orders, while others try to find alternatives with little success.

Meanwhile, everyone from frustrated parents to lawmakers on Capitol Hill has called for investigations into why it is so difficult to resolve shortages that emerged earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic. A House committee has scheduled a hearing for May 25 on the lack of formula.

President Biden spoke Thursday with executives at Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. and infant formula makers about the situation, although a senior administration official declined to provide details about the conversation.

The Biden administration has also indicated several efforts are underway to address the formula’s deficiency. The Department of Agriculture is calling on states to allow recipients of the federally funded program known as WIC to use their benefits for a wide variety of products if they run out of stock. Biden has also asked the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to investigate allegations of price gouging.

Don Clark, president of commerce at Giant Eagle Inc. “This has been even more painful than consumer sentiment because we can’t provide solutions.” able to rotate. This time around, there aren’t many baby formula brands to turn to, he said. The company is evaluating purchasing boundaries and is looking to add new products where possible.

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Abbott’s Sturgis, Mich. factory discontinued. , production temporarily in February as food safety regulators Investigation of possible contamination From its Similac formula. Abbott also issued a voluntary withdrawal request. The factory shutdown has had a huge impact on the industry’s production since it was responsible for making more than half of Abbott’s US infant formula, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Meanwhile, rival Enfamil products saw shipment and transportation delays earlier in the year as the pandemic continued to disrupt food supply chains, the person said.

Malik Abbott and Infamil

Reckitt Benckiser group

RBGLY 0.44%

PLC It was responsible for nearly 80% of infant formula sales in the US last year, according to Euromonitor. Nestlé SA, which makes Gerber baby food products, had nearly 10% of the market, while French consumer goods maker Danone SA had nearly 1%.

The US Food and Drug Administration said the country’s infant formula manufacturers generally make enough to meet demand even without the main Abbott factory online. The Food and Drug Administration said the industry in April sold more formulations than in the month before Abbott’s recall.

“We recognize that many consumers have been unable to obtain infant formula,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that a suitable product is available wherever and whenever they need it.”

The agency is speeding up audits to allow formula that meets its standards to be imported from other countries, so formulation manufacturers can adjust production lines more quickly to prioritize the types of formula produced. Abbott’s plant in Michigan was among the few that produced specialty formulations.

The FDA said it is also trying to find out if the shortage is caused by not getting enough products suitable for certain regions, causing some regions to have too little while others have ample supplies. The agency hopes to prevent consumers from hoarding or hoarding, which it says may also be the cause.

The shortage of infant formula has opened the door to smaller, newer brands gaining traction with customers. But they face constraints in increasing production due to regulatory hurdles. Facilities that make infant formula require special approvals from the Food and Drug Administration that go beyond the usual requirements of food manufacturers.

The FDA is asking new brands to provide detailed explanations for how the formula was developed, studies of what nutrients it should contain, details of factory quality control measures and more. The agency said the Food and Drug Administration then inspects the facility, monitors the process, and collects samples for nutrient and microbiological analysis.

“Only facilities with expertise in manufacturing primarily complete nutrition products are in a position to produce infant formula products that will not pose significant health risks to consumers,” the agency said.

Abbott said it flies daily formula from its factory in Ireland and has changed some of the nutrition syrup factory lines to produce ready-to-drink infant formula.

“We know that millions of parents and caregivers around the world depend on our formulas to feed their babies and children, and we are doing everything we can to address this situation,” said an Abbott spokesperson.

The Biden administration also said that in the coming days, the Food and Drug Administration will announce new steps to increase imports of infant formula. The White House said the United States typically produces 98% of the infant formula Americans buy.

Perigo companyAnd

PRGO 5.95%

Which makes drugs and other consumer products, it has two factories in the United States that make baby formula for other brands, such as Bobbie’s organic formula. Bobbie co-founder and CEO Laura Moody said it’s the only licensed manufacturer these small businesses and store brands can use.

Perrigo has been unable to ramp up production of Bobbie’s formula because it prioritizes specialty products with the greatest need. Two weeks ago, Bobbie stopped receiving new consumer orders on her website in order to meet the demand of her existing subscribers.

Getting into the industry takes years, requires many approvals and upfront investment. This is why there haven’t been many competitors to Shimilac and Enfamil over the past 40 years, Moody said. “There hasn’t been much incentive to create more manufacturing capacity in recent years because the demand for infant formula hasn’t increased much – there are just so many mouths to feed.”

Reckitt, the maker of Enfamil, said it is running its factories 24/7, having added Sunday shifts and any additional time required to ensure around-the-clock staffing. The company is also narrowing production to increase quantities, focusing on volumes that it says allow it to supply most of the formula.

The company reported in April that its sales of infant formula in the United States increased more than 30% in the first quarter of the previous year. Executives say infant formula is a very “sticky” product, which means that parents generally don’t switch milk unless the baby isn’t responding well.

And with the shortage still going on, some parents would welcome any product they can get their hands on. Jo Ann Donovan, a mother of a five-month-old and a 3-year-old boy in North Massapeca, New York, said she and her husband check milk every day, stopping in stores on the way home from work. Her friends and family also look for formula and buy it if they see the products while out and about. For the past two and a half weeks, Ms. Donovan said she had not seen Similac, Enfamil or brand stores.

“It is a nerve-wracking situation because that is the only way to feed them,” said Ms. Donovan, 36, who has had formula for a week and a half. She wrote to her doctor this week asking for advice.

Stores are also trying to maintain adequate supplies.

Kroger Company

She said she limits infant formula to four containers. Texas-based HEB LP said it recently capped four products and that store brands are helping fill in some of the gaps.

Leah McGrath, the company’s nutritionist, said:

Engels Markets.

“We’re seeing a lot of homemade formulations going viral online, which is really worrying,” she said. She added that parents can seek advice from pediatricians, including appropriate surrogates.

write to Annie Gasparo in annie.gasparro@wsj.com and Jaewon Kang in jaewon.kang@wsj.com

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