Arizona among worst states for worsening baby formula shortage

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 10:20 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - More than half of infant formula products are out of stock in Arizona, as the nationwide formula shortage worsens. According to Datasembly, which tracks real-time product pricing, both Arizona and the Phoenix metro area have climbed to a 51% out-of-stock rate for formula, compared to the nationwide average of 43%.

“The category started to see stocking challenges beginning in July 2021, and the situation has continued to worsen into 2022,” said Datasembly CEO Ben Reich. The shortage of formula was caused by supply chain issues and a massive recall of products made by Abbott over concerns of bacterial contamination. Dr. Kristin Struble from Camelback Pediatrics says there are several important things for families to keep in mind as they scramble to find the formula they need for their babies.

“I would caution families do not try to make your own formula, because that definitely is not going to be adequate nutrition for your baby’s growing brain and body,” Dr. Struble said. “And do not water your formula down. What that means is less calories and less nutrients. And also if babies do have watered-down formula, it can actually disturb their electrolytes, so their sodium level can drop which can actually trigger seizures.”

Dr. Struble says parents should also avoid giving infants cow’s milk. “Keep in mind, kids over the age of six months who are consuming solid foods you can increase the caloric intake from real food,” she said. “Babies don’t have to have a massive amount of formula a day once they’re really consuming a lot of solids. Formula is important, but go up on foods that are super fatty and healthy such as avocados.”

For babies younger than six months who are on an all-formula diet, samples of formula may be an option. “You still can call your pediatrician and ask if they have samples,” Dr. Struble said. “Samples are sparse, so if they do they might only be able to provide you a few cans here and there, but at least it’s something. And then WIC is a local government-subsidized government organization, you can try them to see too if they have some samples available. They usually do.”

If you choose to shop online for formula, stick with big-box retailers and pharmacies and avoid unknown sellers. “We don’t know how that formula has been stored, if it was part of the recall, what the expiration date is, if they’ve tampered with it,” Dr. Struble said. “You have to be really careful that they are not going to give you something that will harm your baby.”

If you choose to shop online for formula, stick with big-box retailers and pharmacies and avoid unknown sellers.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spoke with retailers and manufacturers about increasing production and potentially importing more supplies. Brian Deese, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said the administration is tackling the shortage from several angles. “The key here is to produce more formula but also to make more formula available and easier for consumers to buy. Already we’re seeing the impact of the steps that we have taken to produce more formula,” Deese said. “So the manufacturers that we spoke to yesterday--Gerber increasing production 50%, Rickits increasing production by 40%. There has been more production of formula than there was in the weeks preceding the recall.”

President Biden is also called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate price gouging. “Temporary shortages like this one create an environment where unscrupulous profiteers could try to purchase infant formula at regular prices at retail outlets and resell it at an exorbitant markup to families that cannot find formula, including through digital platforms,” Biden wrote in a letter to the FTC. “It is unacceptable for families to lose time and spend hundreds of dollars more because of price gougers’ actions. I therefore ask that the Commission further examine whether there is price gouging in infant formula occurring, thoroughly investigate complaints brought to you through channels such as your fraud hotline, and that you bring all of the Commission’s tools to bear if you uncover any wrongdoing.”

In Arizona, there is no law regulating price gouging, but a spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s office says if you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, you should file a complaint.