Nationwide shortage in baby formula impacts local families in Chester County

WEST GROVE — There’s a shortage of baby formula in America and its impact has hit local grocery stores here at home.

While infants are less than 6 months old, at least 75 percent of little ones are exclusively breastfed with their mother’s milk. However, after six months, that rate drops. According to the Office of the Surgeon General, only 13 percent of babies are solely breastfed in America.

“Due to the recent recall and ongoing strain on the supply chain, we like other retailers are experiencing challenges when it comes to our supply of baby formula,” said Ashley Flower, public relations manager for the Giant Company on Tuesday.

“Though product is available, the situation is fluid and it is possible that a particular item may be unavailable. We continue to work closely with our supplier partners to secure product and get it on shelves as quickly as possible to meet the needs of our customers,” she said.

“While limits are not currently in place, we encourage customers to only buy what they need and not panic buy, ensuring product is available for as many families as possible,” Flower said.

Matt McKinney is the communications manager for the Food Industry Association (FMI).

“The infant formula category has not been immune to the same confluence of pandemic-related challenges affecting the broader consumer goods supply chain, including reduced labor, transportation delays and packaging issues,” Matt McKinney said on Tuesday.

Jupiter Iris French was born in 2021. On average, 3.5 million babies are born in America every year. (COURTESY PHOTO)Jupiter Iris French was born in 2021. On average, 3.5 million babies are born in America every year. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

“Further exacerbating the infant formula supply challenges, a voluntary recall on infant formulas produced at one of Abbott Nutrition’s manufacturing facilities continues to disrupt product availability,” McKineey said. “Even as this recall is creating additional complications for food retailers in securing certain formulas, grocers are working diligently to identify and source safe, approved substitutions that effectively meet the needs of vulnerable populations across the country, including families participating in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.”

He said the FMI is committed to working with the federal agencies, WIC directors and the National WIC Association to continue to feed families and support vulnerable populations.

“We remain focused on assessing appropriate substitutions and procuring additional stock, including from major manufacturers of infant formula sold as store brands,” McKineey said. “While consumers might not be able to find their preferred infant formula brand, the nation’s grocery stores are working to be sure all families have access to a safe, nutritious alternative option for their infants.”

“Locally there are several options for baby formula,” said Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell on Tuesday. “Residents can call 2-1-1 to be put in touch with resources.”

Additional resources for folks can be found by connecting the Catholic Social Services in West Grove, St. Agnes Parish’s Dorothy Day Center in West Chester, PACS, The Bridge Food Pantry in West Grove, and WIC Satellite offices for support in finding baby formula. He said the CYWA Family Center, the West Chester Food Cupboard, and the Chester County Food Bank also offer formula and other necessary supplies.

He said Birthright of West Chester is open to all and provides limited formula. Operation Homefront offers services, including formula, for military families, the commissioner added.

“Being a new parent is tough enough — let alone during a global pandemic — and now a national baby formula shortage? It’s outright alarming,” said U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th, of Easttown. “For too long, our country has relied on only four fully integrated manufacturers of baby formula, meaning we have been especially vulnerable to shortages if any one of those companies had to recall their product — and that’s exactly what happened. Coupled with supply chain delays, this recent development has made an already difficult situation much more dire.”

She said a new American supplier, ByHeart — for the first time in 15 years — recently received FDA registration to manufacture baby formula. And this spring, ByHeart, which is based in New York, opened a  processing facility in Reading, Berks County.

“Southeast Pennsylvania continues to be an attractive place for businesses to grow and I’m proud and not surprised that this company is here, in my district, and they are expanding production,” the congresswoman said. “My team and I have met with this constituent business several times.”

Houlahan said she is advocating for a $50 million funding increase for the federal rural development programs that help businesses like ByHeart.

“Through the appropriations process, I also requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA establish new programs to protect American supply chains for baby formula,” Houlahan said on Tuesday. “Parents deserve peace of mind that this essential product will be available to them, and I won’t stop until that’s the case for every family in Pennsylvania and across the country.”

“Members of the Infant Nutrition Council of America are committed to meeting the needs of families who rely on infant formula — it is their top priority,” said Robert Rankin. He is the executive director of the Infant Nutrition Council of America.

“Parents and caregivers should always obtain infant formula from a safe, reliable source and discuss feeding-related questions with a health care provider,” Rankin said on Wednesday.

Be sure to consult a child’s pediatrician on all infant feeding options, he added.

Rankin said families can order infant formula for home delivery directly from online retailers.

Commercial infant formulas from Infant Nutrition Council of America member companies are safe and designed to provide babies with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, he said.

“Supply chain challenges, including impacts on transportation, labor, and logistics and a recent product recall, have impacted infant formula availability. Infant formula manufacturers are actively working with suppliers, distributors, retailers and state agencies to ensure availability and access to infant formula products to quickly address the needs of babies everywhere,” Rankin said.

Back in Reading, ByHeart opened its manufacturing facility on April 28. The company was founded in 2016.

“We source ingredients from all over the world: we scoured suppliers globally for the highest quality ingredients,” said Ron Belldegrun, ByHeart co-founder and chief executive officer, on Wednesday.

“Everyone in this industry is working to scale quickly — no one could have predicted that a national recall would follow a pandemic — but I will say that we built ByHeart very intentionally from every other new entrant to market to be able to grow nimbly, and to have more control over every step,” Belldegrun said.

Ron Belldegrun and Mia Funt celebrate the opening of the ByHeart manufacturing facility in Reading, Pennsylvania, earlier this spring. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)Ron Belldegrun and Mia Funt celebrate the opening of the ByHeart manufacturing facility in Reading, earlier this spring. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

“We are the first new infant formula manufacturer to be registered with the FDA in over 15 years; we built ground up, acquired our own facility, and oversee every ingredient relationship directly, so that we can work to get ahead of demand and ensure the highest quality nutrition for babies,” Belledgrun said. “We always work to scale and react quickly, because meeting parents’ needs — and babies’ needs for their sole source of nutrition — is our only focus.”

According to the Office of the Surgeon General, three out of four mothers — or 75 percent — in the U.S. breastfeed their newborns. After six months, however, breastfeeding rates decrease to 43 percent.

Earlier this year in February, Abbott Nutrition announced a voluntary recall of select infant formula brands including Similac, Similac Alimentum and Elecare. All three brands are types of powdered formulas.

“Currently our stores are limiting Similac quantities to five cans per customer,” said Dana Ward, communications and public affairs manager for Acme, on Tuesday.

“Like most retailers,” Ward said, “Acme is experiencing challenges regarding baby formula and are closely monitoring the situation.”

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