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'No Matter Where We Looked, It Was Sold Out': Baby Formula Shortage Is Major Concern For Parents

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Parents looking to buy baby formula are finding empty shelves, and frustration, while scrambling to find alternatives in some parts of the country.

"We've noticed it being difficult to find maybe a couple months ago — two, three months ago — and then just recently we can't find it," San Francisco resident Irene Anhoeck told CBS News.

She and her husband, Mario Anhoeck are the parents of Marlo, a 10-month-old boy. And since she can't breastfeed, the couple have fed Marlo a liquid infant formula from Similac, which they said is now in short supply.

"We've tried all the local Targets. We checked Costco, Costco online, Walgreens, Long's. Can't find it anywhere," Irene Anhoeck said.

Mario Anhoeck even drove an hour away, with no luck. So, the couple switched to the powdered version of the formula, but they say Marlo sometimes spits it up or won't finish it.

"It's just worrisome a little bit for us because we want to just make sure he's getting all the calories needs and all the nutrition he needs from the formula because he's not a year [old] yet," Irene Anhoeck said.

Baby Formula Empty Shelves
(CBS News)

Many parents around the country are reporting the same thing: bare shelves or very low stocks of baby formula — from New York to Washington state.

The Infant Nutrition Council of America acknowledged there are some supply issues.

"Infant formula, it's  a very peculiar category. So, if there is a shortage, you notice it," said Krishnakumar "KK" Davey from the retail research form IRI.

For major brands of baby formula powder, the average national in-stock rate before the pandemic was 95%, said Davey.  But his firm found that as of last week, rates of availability across 10 national retailers ranged from 98% to as low as 75%. Powdered formula was less available in cities including Seattle, Wichita, and Tucson.

"Some of the shortages are related to procuring the raw materials, some of it in production, some of it is in packaging… and then labor shortages in the factory, transportation," Davey said.

Empty shelves are what mom Tiffany Manon said she's been finding north of Orlando, Florida.

"No matter where we looked, it was sold out," she said.

Her 10-week-old son Corbin was born six weeks premature, and she said doctors instructed her to feed him a liquid Enfamil product so he'd gain weight. The company helped by sending her free cases of the product, but now local stores are out of the liquid and powder versions, she said.

"I am worried," Manon said. "Again, it comes to our minds [that] once we do run out of this formula, what's going to happen if they're sold out?"

Enfamil's maker, Reckitt, told CBS News it has "ample supply" of its formula products. But the company said "U.S. baby formula industrywide sales are up 18%, which is more than double" birth rates.

"We have taken steps to ramp up production and are currently shipping 50% more product, to address issues as fast as possible," a Reckitt spokesperson said in a statement.

The manufacturer of Similac products, Abbott, did not respond to CBS News questions about supplies and availability. Neither did Nestle, which makes Gerber products.

Manon said she worries that with parents like her on the hunt for supplies, some may choose to hoard formula, leaving her to go without.

"This is my child," she said. "How am I supposed to feed my child if he does not have what he needs to be fed because people are either hoarding it or its product shortage?"

CBS News reached out to major retail outlets, including Walgreens, Amazon, CVS, and Target. All of them said they're working with suppliers to cover customer demand. Costco and Walmart did not comment.

Abbott referred CBS News to the Infant Nutrition Council. The group says manufacturers are working to ensure availability.

Davey said he hopes there will be more supplies of the various infant formulas available in about four to six weeks.

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