Infant formula shortages persist and policy lessons abound

(Photograph by Brandon Bell/Getty Images.)

Dear Capitolists,

It’s been two months since I first wrote about the baby formula mess in the United States, and a lot has happened in the meantime. The Biden administration launched “Operation Fly Formula” to airlift foreign formula, invoked the Defense Production Act to further stimulate production here, and attempted to relax various FDA rules to encourage foreign producers to enter the previously closed US market. Numerous pieces of congressional legislation have been proposed, with Biden signing a modest one (on the administration of federal food aid) into law. And the Abbott Laboratories plant in Michigan, the one that likely turned a modest formula shortage into a serious crisis, reopened, only to close again due to flooding, then reopen again earlier this month.

Yet the biggest recent news from the formula could very well be what doesn’t has happened in the four-plus months since the shortages really escalated: a significant improvement in domestic supply. The the wall street journal has the last:

The availability of powdered formula in U.S. stores earlier this month fell to its lowest level this year, with around 30% of products out of stock for the week ended July 3, according to the market research firm. IRI. While availability improved slightly last week, stock-out levels remain higher than in recent months and shortages remain acute in states including Alaska, Utah and Wyoming, the data shows. of the IRI.

At the same time, consumers are finding fewer choices of brands, sizes or formula formats on grocery store shelves as the variety of products available decreases. U.S. supermarkets in the four weeks ending June 26 sold an average of 11 different formula products per store each week, according to IRI, compared to a weekly average of 24 from 2018 to 2021.

Keith Milligan, controller of Piggly Wiggly stores in Georgia and Alabama, said his stores carry five of the 30 formula products they typically sell, up from about 10 in late spring. Store shelves are not empty, but have many gaps, Milligan said, and customers buy what is available.

“He hasn’t improved at all,” Mr Milligan said of Piggly Wiggly’s formula supply.

Major online retailers, as cataloged by the unfortunately ever-helpful “Baby formula inventory trackingr” — also show many products that are still out of stock. Bloomberg documents where bricks and mortar shortages have been the worst:

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