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On the hunt for formula: Empty store shelves leave parents scrambling

Baby formula is the latest product that has been critically hit in the supply chain shortage. The shortage is not only impacting Minnesota residents, but families on the national level that are connecting from all corners of the country to help each other find and receive any formula they can.

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The Nygren family, from left to right, Allison, Anders, and their 7-month-old son Leighton, are just one of many families in the Rochester area struggling to find the right formula for their infant as the shortage sees no end in sight.
Contributed / Allison Nygren
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ROCHESTER — For Anders and Allison Nygren, keeping their son, Leighton, fed should not be this hard.

But a shortage of baby formula that has hit the nation has the couple concerned.

“The shortage really didn't hit Rochester until about three, four weeks ago," Anders Nygren said. "You walk in and there's absolutely nothing on the shelves. You then start searching online and everything says sold out, I mean, it’s not a pleasant experience.”

The struggles are not limited to Rochester or even Minnesota. The shortage began after the Food and Drug Administration cited unsafe practices committed by Abbott Nutrition Laboratories, where baby formula products resulted in the deaths of two infants due to a rare bacterial illness. Since the FDA shut down production at the Abbott plant where the illness was traced back to, formula shortages have become all too common on store shelves.

While stores carrying baby formula continue to be bare across the country, families with infants have turned to community pages on social media platforms to assist one another in finding and providing formula to each other when they can.

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The Nygrens, of Rochester, are one of those couples.

Like many, they've turned to Facebook communities to give and receive assistance in finding the right baby formula for their 7-month-old son, and to help other families with the same problem.

The speed at which this crisis came upon their family has worried Nygren and others.

The Nygrens typically shop at big box stores such as Target or Walmart for their son’s formula, looking for the formula that best suits their son’s needs. Even if big box stores such as Target, Walmart and Hy-Vee have some formula in stock, it may not meet the needs of some families.

“For the most part, you get your child on a certain type of formula and you get what works for them," Anders Nygren said, adding that a gentle-stomach formula works best for their son. "Our formula is Enfamil Neuropro, that's what we found works best for him, and we haven't been able to find that in stores for a while.”

Requests for help in finding baby formula for the Nygren’s has not been limited to the Rochester area.

Allison Nygren has heard from people all over the country on Facebook in need of help finding and receiving baby formula amid the shortage. The couple usually purchases several months worth of dry formula at a time, so when the crisis hit, the Nygrens were willing to share some of what they had.

“I even have had somebody message me from Washington, D.C.," Allison Nygren said. "I had someone begging for it, and I had already given it away to somebody in the local community. I had another woman reach out to me, her sister came all the way from Iowa last weekend, and they hit up all of the surrounding towns and everything on the way to Rochester through the drive up looking for a formula for their child, and they could not find it anywhere.”

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Residents in Rochester and surrounding towns have had trouble finding any baby formula at all four Hy-Vee locations as well as both Walmart and Target locations, according to messages on various Facebook community groups. Some residents have gone out of their way to the Hy-Vees in Kasson and Austin, Minnesota, as well as Walmart to find baby formula, ending with the same results.

In a written statement, a Hy-Vee Corporate spokesperson said, “We continue to see sporadic outages of some baby formula brands across our stores due to the national shortage. We are working with our supplier partners to ensure we obtain as much product as possible for our customers. In the meantime, we continue to work with state and industry officials to keep them updated on our supply availability so we can best meet the needs of our customers throughout the Midwest.”

With baby formula being limited on store shelves, prices for available formula at stores have gone up. Even with formula in short supply, financial support to acquire formula is available in the Rochester area and around the state.

Wendy O’Leary, Services Manager for Minnesota WIC – Women, Infants and Children – said the organization is providing updated information for Olmsted County residents and other Minnesotans residents where to find baby formula or formula-related products. The organization also helps with financial assistance for those in need.

“We've added as many alternatives to our list as we can to increase the chances that families find a formula in the store that they can purchase with their benefit," O'Leary said. "There is a huge list of allowed formula substitutes, which can help guide families who cannot find their usual formula brand in the store. We are in contact with vendors and stores to find out what samples are available and then can also help guide clients as to where the best location might be for them to find the formula that they need.”

The list for baby formula alternatives and services can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health Website .

As the baby formula shortage grows more dire, manufacturers have stated they will increase productivity at their manufacturing plants. Reckitt Benckiser, based out of Norwich, United Kingdom, has increased production by 30% and plans to increase shipments to the United States, according to a report by Reuters.

One Reckitt plant in the United States where production will pick up rapidly is located in Wanamingo, Minn., and will be allowing unlimited overtime for plant employees who will work to make up for the supply shortage.

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Though there are signs the baby formula shortage will decline as the summer goes on, there is still a six-week period where supply chains will remain limited with certain types of formula. That has the Nygrens and other families worried.

“We’ll probably start seeing more posts on Facebook and people looking for formulas here in the next week or two. I don't know about other people, but when we see formula on the shelves, we try to buy for the full month, but it's just not there anymore," Anders Nygren said. "And people who typically have had some sort of supply start running out and then they're gonna either try to find it online or go on to social media and try to find it there.”

Related Topics: RETAILEXCLUSIVEHEALTH NEWS
Theodore Tollefson is a business reporter for the Post Bulletin. He is originally from Burnsville, Minn., and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a bachelor's degree in journalism in December 2020. Readers can reach Theodore at 507-281-7420 or ttollefson@postbulletin.com.
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