The past few months have been incredibly challenging for parents who feel the strain of the ever-worsening baby formula shortage. Parents have spent the past few months spent calling stores, local and afar, driving hundreds of miles, and scouring the internet to find the formulas they need to be able to feed their little ones after the shutdwn of a formula factory led to tons of formula being out of stock. Last week, the Biden administration announced a new initiative Operation Fly Formula to help increase stock of formula and the House passed two bills to help parents.
As of this weekend, the first shipment of formula from Operation Fly Formula has landed in the country. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s driving the formula shortage?
Supply chain issues exacerbated by COVID-19 are still plaguing many areas of life—and baby formula is one of them. Last year, some formula brands ran into supply issues finding the raw ingredients needed to manufacture formula, which led to some shortages of the necessary product.
But things have gotten worse since. The months-long shutdown of Abbott Nutrition’s Facility in Sturgis, Michigan, that began in February took the issue into immediate crisis mode after a potential bacteria outbreak forced the plant to shutter production to investigate. While the FDA has given Abbott the go-ahead to start producing formulas once again, it will take several weeks for Abbott to ramp up production and even more for that formula to reach shelves.
The shortage worsens each day, and new data from Datasembly shows that the national out-of-stock rate hit a high of 43 percent for the first week of May. That’s up from the last week of April when the number was 40 percent. For context, the national out-of-stock rate in November 2021 was only 11 percent. The problem can have dire consequences. When specific formulas are out of stock, like allergy formulas, many parents are out of basically out of options to feed their babies.
Why did Abbott shutting down make things so much worse? As of 2018, four companies control approximately 89 percent of the U.S. market in baby formula. This includes Nestlé (Gerber), Reckitt Benckiser (Enfamil), Perrigo (which makes the store-brand formulas), and Abbott (Similac). When something like this happens, where only a few companies run the show and use the same sources, it creates a fragile supply chain.
What is Operation Fly Formula?
The Biden administration launched Operation Fly Formula on May 18th. Part of Operation Fly Formula included Biden authorizing the Defense Production Act (DPA), a Cold-War Era executive power that helps the government take control of certain industries in times of emergency.
As part of Operation Fly Formula, and under contract with the Department of Defense, the U.S. will directly import formula that meets the U.S. standards and shorten the delivery time by bypassing the typical shipping routes.
The first batch of 78,000 pounds of formula safely landed in the U.S. on May 22 and will address “15 percent of the overall national volume that we need,” Brian Deese, President Joe Bident’s top economic advisor in the White House, told CNN. Estimates suggest that it will fill over half a million baby bottles.
A second shipment of formula that has Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula on board will land in the USA sometime this week, per People.
When can you expect to see formula in stock again?
Parents should begin to see “more formula in stores starting as early as this week,” Deese said.
According to ABC News, the formula that arrived in the first flight includes two types of baby formula — Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior, which are hypoallergenic formulas created for babies who can’t have cows milk protein.
More shipments are expected to continue in the coming weeks.