RICHMOND, Va. — Families looking for baby formula at The Market at 25th in East Richmond have to get the stock they have available from behind the counter. Far from the product placement the store wants, nationwide infant formula shortages have significantly impacted their stock for weeks.
In February, one of the largest formula manufacturing plants in the U.S. was shut down after a safety recall.
In the weeks that followed, Kenneth Jenkins, assistant store direct at The Market at 25th, said their supplier was hit hard as stores across the country scrambled to get whatever stock they could their hands on.
“I want to say like a week or two ago there finally was some available at the warehouse, and it was only Similac Advanced. I said let me give it a shot because everyday we’re scanning and trying to get it back in,” Jenkins said.
The White House has approved importing formula from other countries in the interim. Experts said 98% of the infant formula used in the U.S. is made domestically. The shuttered Michigan plant will soon reopen, but no one truly knows how long shortages will persist.
Jenkins said he placed another order on Wednesday, and the store is cautiously optimistic that more stock will come soon since their 20 cases are beginning to dwindle.
“It says there are like 500 cases in the warehouse. I know they have like more than 100 retailers they distribute to and hopefully we’ll get our piece of the pie. . . We don’t know until we open the truck door and it’s right there.”
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine said he knows families are struggling to find formula and signed onto a letter last week urging U.S. formula manufacturers to boost production immediately.
Although Kaine thinks the shortage will elevate soon, he backs utilizing the Defense Production Act if formula producers do not respond quickly.
“We have a feeling that this issue is going to get back to an equilibrium once the closed manufacturing plant is open again and producing at its previous volume then we’ll be OK. But I would say, the Defense Production Act as a short-term strategy makes a lot of sense to me,” Kaine said.
Local health officials are also at the mercy of the supply chain. Amy Popopvich with the Richmond-Henrico Health District said efforts continue to help Virginians of low income access the formula they need.
“Obviously been a huge challenge for parents who rely on formula,” Popovich said. “The WIC offices at the Virginia state level have expanded brands that are available for purchase using WIC benefits. So that same WIC benefit is now able to purchase more options.”
Sen. Kaine also urged Virginians to explore if they qualify for the WIC program, which helps women and children of low income access nutritional assistance. (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/wic/)
In the meantime as the shortages continue, Popovich offered this advice for families who might be concerned.
“Call stores ahead of time and check smaller markets before going to the stores. Check with your doctor about switching brands especially if your baby doesn’t have allergies or medical conditions,” she said.
Hear from an area pediatrician's recommends for parents during the shortage by clicking here.