The current national baby formula shortage is an uncanny reminder of toilet paper flying off the racks before the then-imminent COVID-19 lockdowns, or beef scarcity on shelves usually packed with Angus.
Amid a shortage caused by overlapping problems – supply chain issues, contaminated formula triggering production stoppages – Santa Clarita residents have become accustomed to being told to wait or look for alternatives.
Shelbie Burley-Johnson’s now 10-month-old son was diagnosed with a milk allergy as a newborn, which prompted her to switch to Similac Alimentum – a hypoallergenic formula for allergies and colic – which was already scarce. Following her pediatrician’s advice, she transitioned to regular formula while staying on Alimentum before it was recalled in February this year.
Three months back, after trying multiple brands, her son was on the right path to transitioning to the new regular formula. “Fast forward and the shelves are empty for that one. I purchased one can at the grocery store and the cashier told me I need to go find more because they’ve seen less and less coming in every week. I went on a hunt to seven stores to find another tub,” Johnson said.
Infant formula is a critical purchase for most families, especially for working mothers, those with more than one child on formula, or babies with health issues. Many grocery store chains in the Santa Clarita Valley are facing the shortage.
Team members at stores in Santa Clarita confirmed the shortage in their inventory: Smart and Final, Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons, Food 4 Less and Stater Bros. Market. All the stores either have nearly-empty shelves or a purchase limit of five to 10 formula containers per family. Vallarta in Canyon Country is among the few stores with stock to last a few weeks, and without any purchase limit.
Parents are frantically looking for alternatives, and there aren’t many. Renee Kennedy, owner of Earth Baby Boutique, an organic local and imported products store for infant products with two branches in Santa Clarita, calls the situation “pure hell.” Her inventory includes FDA-approved organic baby formula, many imported from Europe.
“I haven’t seen anything like this. This has been the longest week of my life,” she said. Kennedy is struggling with livid parents, desperate to pay anything for formula, and employees ready to quit who’re at the receiving end of their anger.
“I feel bad for them. There’s been a lot of fraud in online shopping and delivery because people are refusing, they got the delivery, or packages getting lost,” she added. “Online shopping with additional shipping cost isn’t for everyone, especially low-income families who’re waiting for checks from welfare or live paycheck to paycheck.”
“The thought of a starving baby should be everyone’s concern,” Johnson said, lamenting, “Ultimately, it’s the moms who are speaking against it and helping each other.”