Retail Council of Canada eyeing domestic baby formula supply amid Abbott recall

The Retail Council of Canada says it’s keeping an eye on domestic supplies of baby formula as a recall of some Abbott products spikes demand overall.

A dearth of some of the Chicago-based manufacturer’s Similac powder formulas has increased pressure on other brands as families turn to alternatives, said national spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen.

But it has not caused the bare shelves seen at many stores south of the border, she added.

“They’re not experiencing major challenges at the present time, but we’ll want to keep our eye on them because the longer the shortage continues from Abbott, the more impacted these other suppliers will be and so we could start to see additional shortages ,” Wasylyshen said Wednesday.

In February, Abbott recalled certain products of several major brands — Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare — and closed its Sturgis, Mich., factory when US federal officials concluded four babies suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility. Two of the infants died.

Abbott said its formula is not likely the source of infection, although the Food and Drug Administration said it is still investigating.

The shutdown has sent parents across the United States scrambling to find substitutions, only to find empty shelves at many stores. Some US retailers, including CVS and Walgreens, have begun limiting purchases to three containers per customer.

In Canada, some parents have turned to online forums to trade stories about their experience switching brands and the availability of stock at various retailers.

Wasylyshen said Abbott is still not shipping any item impacted by the recall, which includes the vast majority of their powders. She said specialized formulas without substitutions have been affected for nine months due to the pandemic.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., which owns Shoppers Drug Mart, said in an emailed statement Wednesday that supply issues are only affecting the recalled products.

“While this has left holes in our shelves, we do have a good supply of formula from our other vendors,” it said.

Wasylyshen said supply can vary widely in Canada because different retailers use different supply chains.

Complicating matters are lingering delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked myriad global supply chain disruptions last year.

“Everything is taking a little bit longer to get to stores,” she said.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2022.

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