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Parents scramble as some types of baby formula now harder to find in parts of U.S.

Some parents say baby formula is hard to find
Some kinds of baby formula now harder to find in parts of U.S., leaving parents frustrated 04:10

Some kinds of baby formula are getting harder to find in parts of the country, leaving parents of young children frustrated and scrambling for alternatives.

"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.

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.

"Broadly, there are reports of challenges across retail supply chains, from transportation and logistics to some anecdotal evidence suggesting pantry-loading behaviors, which can put increased pressure on in-store inventory," a spokesman for the group said in a statement.

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 accounted for more than $4 billion in U.S. sales in 2021, a 4.5% increase from 2020, according to retail research firm IRI. Krishnakumar "KK" Davey, the firm's client engagement president, said the current shortage has become worse over the past three or four weeks.

For major brands of baby formula powder, the average national in-stock rate before the pandemic was 95%, he said. 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 our 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?"

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

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

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

Here is the group's full statement:

Infant Nutrition Council of America: "Meeting the needs of the families who rely on infant formula is the top priority for members of the Infant Nutrition Council of America (INCA).  Broadly, there are reports of challenges across supply chains, including an impact on transportation and logistics, and some suggestions of pantry-loading behaviors. Infant formula manufacturers are actively working with our suppliers, distributors, retailers and state agencies to ensure availability and access to infant formula.  As always, it is essential to obtain infant formula from a safe, reliable source and discuss feeding-related questions with a healthcare provider.

And here are statements from the companies cited in this story:

Enfamil: "At Enfamil, we are dedicated to giving the millions of babies and toddlers that rely on our formulas the best start in life. We are aware that some parents are having trouble finding their favorite baby formula in their preferred store. We would like to reassure all parents that we have ample supply across our Enfa family of products to meet the needs of all babies who rely on our formula. However, U.S. baby formula industrywide sales are up 18%, which is more than double what birth rates and other indicators predicted. We have taken steps to ramp up production and are currently shipping 50% more product, to address issues as fast as possible."

Walgreens: "We continue to see greater demand for baby formula nationwide and as a result Walgreens is working diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have enough supply to cover customer demand. There may however be temporary and/or isolated shortages of specific products. We refer you to the manufacturers for questions on supply of individual products. For customers looking for items, updates with the latest available store inventory information frequently throughout the day."

Amazon: "We know these products are of great importance to parents and caregivers and are working closely with our selling partners to get them back in stock as quickly as possible."

CVS: "Product supply challenges are currently impacting most of the retail industry. We're continuing to work with our national brand baby formula vendors to address this issue and we regret any inconvenience that our customers may be experiencing."

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