Colorado’s baby formula supply sees squeeze from national shortage, forces purchase limits at select stores

Colorado parents might find it more difficult to secure baby formula for their newborns because of a national shortage. Some stores are limiting the amount of formula that be purchased, as many face setbacks even getting it in stock.

Major chains in Colorado, from CVS Pharmacy to Walgreens, have reported shortages. Shelves in stores throughout the metro area aren’t barren, but the limited supply is noticeable.

CVS set a customer limit of three baby formula products per purchase in stores and online “following supplier challenges and increased customer demand,” said spokesperson Monica Prinzing. The national chain includes more than 50 stores dotted throughout the state.

“We’re continuing to work with our baby formula vendors to address this issue and we regret any inconvenience this causes our customers,” Prinzing added.

Walgreens also established a purchase limit of three per transaction on all infant and toddler formula to help improve inventory, said spokesperson Karen May. Kroger is curbing purchases to four containers per customer, said spokesperson Erin Rolfes.

Notably, Natural Grocers hasn’t had supply issues with its baby formulas, said co-president Kemper Isely.

“But, because of the nationwide shortage, it appears as if we may start experiencing this, as the demand for the formulas we sell goes up because of the shortage of the formulas sold in mass,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

King Soopers, the state’s largest grocery store chain headquartered in Denver, issued a limit on baby formula to four per customer at its 1155 East 9th Avenue store. At its store on 136th Avenue in Broomfield, there were no signs indicating a purchase limit, but shelves of formula were at least half empty.

Elsewhere on the north side of the metro area, the Safeway on 144th Avenue in Broomfield had mostly full shelves, but was limiting purchases to five items, and the Target on 144th Avenue had little supply.

Representatives of King Soopers and Walmart didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Around 40% of large retail stores nationwide are out of stock of baby formula – a jump from 31% in April, according to Datasembly, a data analytics firm. Only a few companies control the baby formula market – Abbott, Mead Johnson, and Gerber, which is owned by Nestlé – which leaves it susceptible to disruptions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in February not to use recalled Similac, Alimentum, or EleCare powdered infant formulas produced at an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan. The federal investigation followed complaints by consumers about infant illness.

“We recognize that many consumers have been unable to access infant formula and critical medical foods they are accustomed to using and are frustrated by their inability to do so,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it.”

The FDA is working to allow flexibility in the movement of already permitted infant formula products from abroad into the U.S., according to a Tuesday update. Notably, “other infant formula manufacturers are meeting or exceeding capacity levels to meet current demand,” the agency wrote.

President Joe Biden met with Gerber and Reckitt Thursday to talk about how his administration could help them boost production. He also spoke with Walmart and Target leadership about how to restock shelves and tackle regional disparities in accessing baby formula, the White House said.

“We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the president is very focused on and we’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The Biden administration aims to work with trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands on imports, although 98% of baby formula is produced in the U.S.

Colorado’s baby formula shortfall is “probably on average with the rest of the country,” said Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council, whose members sell the majority of the product in the state.

But, the Abbott plant isn’t the lone source of the problem. Howes also pointed to the transportation sector’s labor deficit and lingering effects from COVID-19.

“Everybody is working on this to try to find a quick fix,” he said, but cautioned parents against making their own formula.

Parents who strike out finding formula at the store still have options in the metro area.

Colorado families can stop by Denver Inner City Parish at 1212 Mariposa St. From Monday through Friday, the human services nonprofit gives out child-care supplies, including baby formula.

Alex Romberg, office manager and executive assistant, said their team is sorting through all of the Similac products to ensure they’re not part of the recall.

Alternatively, its food pantry, which is only open on Saturdays, has baby food available. Denver Inner City Parish is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for walk-ups.

Residents of the Denver metropolitan area can also turn to WeeCycle, a Colorado-based nonprofit that helps families in need. While WeeCycle doesn’t donate directly to individuals, its Mobile Baby Essentials program distributes diapers, wipes, baby food, formula and more at five Denver locations and one Aurora location.

The nonprofit has nine events in May and seven in June, as listed online. Most are drive-thru, and all are first-come, first-serve with no documentation required.

Lindsey Zaback, WeeCycle development director, said she’s seen a boost in demand for baby formula, particularly for specialty brands. “I can’t even wrap my mind around this formula shortage as a mom,” she said in a telephone interview.

Through grant funding, the nonprofit is able to purchase $20,000 of formula each month, but Zaback encourages financial donations from those interested in helping the cause.

WeeCycle also collects infant and toddler gear at various donation locations and distributes the cleaned and inspected gear to community-based organizations. Donations can include diapers, wipes, baby food, formula and more.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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