The continuing effects of the global coronavirus pandemic are being felt in unexpected ways. Across the United States right now, desperate parents are coping with a nationwide baby formula shortage. The coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame and combined with other factors, it has led to a deeply troubling situation.
Some parents are driving miles to try to find this essential supply, which is necessary for their children’s health. Others are attempting to supplement the short supply with homemade infant formula, watered down formula, or tightly rationed portions for their children. So why is there a severe shortage of baby formula across the United States now? And what does the supply chain have to do with it?
In this article, we will take a look at the causes behind the shortage and other key information.
Supply Chain Issues
Since the global coronavirus pandemic upended global industries, there have been huge shifts in the way business has operated. With so many people stuck at home, the eCommerce business boomed and online retail flourished. The sudden spike in demand for imported goods, coupled with inflation and the rising prices of oil, have placed huge pressure on international supply chains.
The shipping of products has been disrupted by labor shortages and backed up shipping.
This means that even when there are ingredients for the formula, they get stuck on factory and warehouse shelves and arrival times are seriously delayed, even when the majority of baby formula production takes place inside the US.
With essential ingredients stuck in transit or running in short supply because of labor shortages in the manufacturing plants, there is a lack of supplies before the formula is even prepared. Add to the mix the recent US manufacturing plant shutdown, and there is simply not enough formula to go around. Parents nationwide are concerned about how they are going to feed their babies.
Infant Formula Recall
With the supply of baby formula ingredients already stretched thin due to the global supply chain shortage, the last thing anyone needed was a sudden recall of infant formula. But unfortunately, that is precisely what occurred.
In February, the limited supply of baby formula was subjected to even greater pressure when Abbott Laboratories, a major baby food manufacturing plant, received reports of bacterial infection in babies who had consumed their powdered baby formula.
Several of these babies were hospitalized, and two babies who were infected by the bacteria did not survive. Abbott Nutrition recalled the product and shut down its processing facility in Michigan. This sudden recall of formula put the severely limited supply under even greater strain.
What Are the Effects of The Shortage?
As of mid-May, retailers across the country reported that 43% of formula was out of stock. Major national corporations such as Target, Walgreens, and CVS are now imposing rations on customers, to preserve some of the limited supply.
The hardest-hit parents are those with low incomes. Low-income families have not been able to purchase larger amounts of formula to create a stockpile for their children. Families in low-income areas are also having to pay extra for shipping from online retailers or deal with ramped-up prices from merchants reselling stockpiled formula. For many low-income families, the formula created by Abbott Nutrition is the only kind available through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. So, parents who would normally rely on this program to receive their formula may have to pay high out of pocket premiums instead.
Parents who reside in the South and Southwest are grappling with the highest rates of empty shelves.
Compounding Economic Factors
It is not only infant formula that has been affected in recent years by the supply chain shortages. During the pandemic, we saw plenty of big packing plants shut down due to labor shortages as workers were instructed to stay at home. While bigger packing plants are more efficient and economically profitable for large global corporations, they do reduce the availability of supplies across the entire supply chain. So, if something happens to that one big packing plant, the entire supply chain is put at risk.
Smaller packing plants mean higher costs for the manufacturing company, which can mean higher prices for consumers. And if consumers are not willing to pay more to a smaller company, then chances are that this company will be priced out by a bigger global corporation with lower overhead costs and bigger, more consolidated packing plants. Which is one reason we have ended up grappling with this supply shortage today.
What Is Being Done About It?
While the infant formula continues to be a struggle for families nationwide, the FDA is working with Abbott Labs to reopen their manufacturing facility and kickstart production. The lab should reopen within the coming weeks.
Other manufacturers are also working to increase their production capacity to try to fill the gap. Measures are being taken to try to restock shelves as soon as possible, but the timeline still is not clear. Experts have not yet announced when consumers can expect to access this vital supply.
About the author
Janie Morton is currently a blog writer for Internet Advisor. She enjoys writing about artificial intelligence and advancements in technology. Interests include travel, boxing and hiking with her dogs.