Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
At the Target off Paseo del Norte and I-25 Friday afternoon, Charlene and David Montoya stopped short when they rounded a corner and saw rows of nearly empty formula shelves, punctuated with signs informing customers of the limit-4 policy.
“That’s it,” Charlene said, pointing at the empty space above an Enfamil price tag. “That’s what I need.”
The Montoyas weren’t there for themselves. The first-time grandparents drove an hour up to the city from San Antonio, New Mexico, to hunt for formula on behalf of their daughter in Arizona, who can’t breastfeed after being diagnosed with cancer while she was pregnant. Her nearly 5-month-old son can only handle certain types of non-powdered formula, Charlene said.
“I bought out the Walmart in Socorro two weeks ago, and they haven’t restocked,” she said, adding that the store was limiting retailers to five containers per customer at the time.
Charlene said her daughter, who lives close to the New Mexico border, has tried all the stores in her area as well.
“Tucson, out. Willcox, out. Bisbee, out,” she said. “Everybody’s scrambling right now.”
The lack of baby formula isn’t just limited to the Southwest.
Across the county families and retailers are scrambling for a supply of baby formula that is in short supply with about 40% of large retail stores out of stock, according to reporting from the Associated Press.
Issues like pandemic-related supply chain disruptions of ingredients, stockpiling of formula and then a February recall of formula produced by Abbott Nutrition – the nation’s largest baby formula manufacturer – have all helped contribute to barren shelves, the Associated Press reported. The cause of the shortage has led to a political dispute between Republican members of Congress and the Biden administration.
On Friday, the New Mexico Department of Health and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department reported that some families are experiencing difficulty finding formulas.
“Some New Mexico families may be facing challenges locating infant formula, and we are working diligently to assist families in our Women, Infants and Children program to make sure babies are getting the food they need,” NMDOH acting secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a news release.
DOH spokesman David Morgan said the shortage has been ongoing since the pandemic began two years ago, but has increased with the recall of several products. The DOH Women, Infants and Children program is working to help program participants track down the formula they need, he said.
WIC, which provides health care referrals, food and food to low-income pregnant, postpartum and nursing women, infants and children up to 5 years old, has about 31,000 participants in New Mexico, according to Morgan.
Though some stores are dealing with low stock, Morgan said the state WIC program’s main supplier for direct orders and specialty orders, Gerber, has maintained a steady supply.
He said families can access formula through the Child and Adult Food Program, and encouraged WIC participants struggling to find formula to contact the WIC program.
The shortage of formula was apparent at several stores visited by the Journal.
In the South Valley at the Smith’s Price Rite on Arenal and Goff, the shelves were mostly cleaned out of infant formula with less than a quarter of the stock remaining.
At the West Side Walmart near Cottonwood Mall, meanwhile, shelves were about one-third full, with mainly powdered products left. An associate – called to the area to unlock the cabinet for a customer – said he had no idea when new shipments would be arriving.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market on Cutler near San Mateo had similarly barren shelves on Friday afternoon, while the Smith’s on Paseo del Norte and Golf Course was limiting baby formula to four units per customer excluding those with WIC vouchers for more than four units.
However, at some stores the shortage was limited to more specialty types of formula.
Kelly Ortman, owner of Downtown’s Silver Street Market said she’s not seeing shortages of baby formula across the board, but some specialty formulas like a hypoallergenic variety have been difficult to order.
Ortman said she had already received several calls, more than the usual amount, from workers with the WIC Program trying to help clients track down specific forms of formula.
Charlene and David Montoya, meanwhile, said they understand that factors responsible for the shortage are far out of retailers’ hands.
“We know it’s not the store’s fault,” David Montoya said.
Still, Charlene said, the shortage is frightening. She said she hopes anybody who doesn’t absolutely need formula won’t buy any.
“Psychologically, on the mother, it is horrid,” she said. “… (I would) encourage the moms who can (to) breastfeed.”