With widespread shortages and rationing, parents are struggling to find baby food

One of the most important products for new parents is in short supply. Baby formula, which three-quarters of US babies receive in their first six months, is increasingly selling out at retailers across the country.

The supply of infant formula is so limited that retailers like Walgreens even limit how much consumers can buy at one time. A spokesman for the drugstore chain told CBS MoneyWatch it limits customers to three infant and toddler nutrition products per transaction, citing “increased demand and various supplier issues.”

Supply chain issues related to COVID-19 are contributing to US formula shortages. These include manufacturers facing greater difficulties in sourcing key ingredients, packaging issues and labor shortages, all of which combine to hamper production and distribution. Also a main compartment Baby food recall tightened bottlenecks in January.

At U.S. retailers, 29% of top-selling baby food products sold out for the week of March 13, according to an analysis by Datasembly, which tracked baby food inventory at more than 11,000 stores. That’s a sharp increase from 11% in November.

“That’s a shocking number that you don’t see in other categories,” Ben Reich, CEO of Datasembly, told CBS MoneyWatch.

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“We’ve tracked it over time and it’s increasing dramatically. We see that this category is more dramatically affected by economic conditions than others,” added Reich.

In 24 US states, 30% of infant formula was out of stock as of mid-March, while other states were experiencing even more severe shortages. In Minnesota at the same time, 54% of baby food products were sold out. Parents in Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, North and South Dakota, Rhode Island and Texas also struggle with severe deficiencies of at least 40%, according to Datasembly.

For comparison, in the first seven months of 2021, between 2% and 8% of baby food products were out of stock.

“We found that a few months ago — two, three months ago — it was difficult to find, and then just recently we can’t find it,” a San Francisco resident Irene Anhoeck to CBS News earlier this year. “We’ve tried all the local targets. We’ve checked Costco, Costco online, Walgreens, Long’s. Can’t find it anywhere.”

Product shortages were further exacerbated in February when Abbott Nutrition issued following reports of a widespread recall of its powdered baby food products disease in infants who had consumed the baby products. The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning last week urging consumers not to use any of the recalled products made at Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan facility thereafter found the facility unhygienic.

Avoid hoarding

The Infant Nutrition Council of America, in a recent statement on its website, reassured parents that manufacturers are increasing production to meet families’ needs. The council also encourages parents to keep a supply or formula at home for 10 days to two weeks and urges them not to stockpile any products.

A CVS Health spokesperson acknowledged that “product supply challenges are affecting most of the retail industry right now.” The company is working with “national baby food suppliers to address this issue and we regret any inconvenience our customers may experience,” the spokesperson added.

In January, Enfamil, a leading baby food brand, said it was able to handle an unprecedented 18% surge in baby food demand nationwide.

“We have taken steps to ramp up production and are currently shipping 50% more product to resolve issues as quickly as possible,” a spokesman for Reckitt, the maker of Enfamil, said in a statement to CBS News at the time.

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