Baby formula shortage impacting some stores, not others

Published 11:00 am Friday, April 29, 2022

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A national shortage of baby formula has affected some stores worse than others. The shortage is thought to have been exacerbated by a recall of three popular formulas — namely Similac, Alimentum and EleCare —made by Abbot Nutrition after a few babies became sick with bacterial infections.

Givorns Foods in West Point is feeling the pinch, according to store manager Ricky Scott. It’s mainly having trouble getting Similac but is also a little short on Enfamil. These are the two main brands the store sells.

Scott estimated that the store has been short on formula for about four weeks.

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“We have had a lot of people trying to get [baby formula] that can’t get it,” he said. “They’re even calling before they come to see if we have it.”

The store is completely out of some sub-brands of formula.

“You have a concentrate, liquid is out,” he said. “And then you have a ready-to-feed and powder, also. It’s pretty low in every category.”

Fortunately, Scott said the shelves aren’t ever completely bare.

“It’s gotten a little better than it was,” he said.

Unlike some larger retailers, Givorns Foods in West Point is not limiting how much baby formula people can buy. Scott said the store is ordering baby formula at every opportunity.

Interestingly, Piggly Wiggly doesn’t have the same problem as Givorns. Keith Milligan, a financial controller for JTM Corporation, which manages Piggly Wiggly in the areas of Columbus, Phenix City, Opelika and Lanett, said that area Piggly Wigglys have all the formula they need.

“There may be a shortage, but it’s not on the ones we sell much of,” he said. “We haven’t run into that problem at all.”

Like Givorns, area Piggly Wigglys sell ​​Enfamil and Similac. Milligan said they may be a little short on some sub-brands of these.

During the pandemic, Piggly Wiggly has suffered shortages of other items. He said for a while, it had a shortage of children’s juice drinks and Gatorade. It now gets much less of what it orders than it used to.

“Before the pandemic, all of the groceries we ordered, we’d get about 95% of what we ordered with a 5% out-of-stock rate,” he said. “Right now, the out-of-stock rate is running between 18% to 20%. We had never accepted that from our distributors pre-pandemic. But now, it’s fairly normal, and it’s not their fault.”

Milligan said people don’t tend to hoard baby formula, possibly because it doesn’t have a very long shelf life.

If Piggly Wiggly did suffer a shortage of baby formula, Milligan said it could limit how much people could buy in some cases. However, he said it couldn’t interfere with regulations set by the Georgia and Alabama WIC programs.

“The vouchers specify how many cans a person can get,” he said.

Milligan said that in the case of a shortage, if someone decided to load up a cart with formula to buy and sell elsewhere, he said Piggly Wiggly wouldn’t allow it.

The baby formulas Piggly Wiggly sells is largely up to WIC in Alabama and Georgia.

“Alabama WIC and Georgia WIC negotiate with different formula distributors,” he said. “And If they have a problem with a particular item that a brand has contracted to deliver, they may work with a different brand. Our store in Lanett is a little unusual in that it accepts both Georgia and Alabama WIC vouchers. And the different states have different contracts. So we probably have to have a bigger variety than a lot of stores do.”