Covering the Land of Lincoln

Baby formula still available locally, but store shelves are emptier | Health-care

CHAMPAIGN — An ongoing national shortage of baby formula isn’t yet hitting Champaign County as hard as some other areas of the country.

But there are more challenges for parents searching for non-standard formulas needed by babies with health conditions such as allergies and digestive issues, a health official said Friday.

“We are seeing some shortages, but it’s not that folks are not able to find it locally,” said Brandon Meline, director of maternal and child health for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

Meline’s division oversees the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program in Champaign County and is keeping an eye on the supply for WIC clients who receive cards preloaded with benefits to buy formula at stores.

The nationwide baby-formula shortage was set in motion by supply disruptions and, earlier this year, Abbott Nutrition’s recall of several major brands of powdered formula and its formula plant in Sturgis, Mich. being taken off line.

A quick check of five stores — the Schnucks in Savoy; the CVS locations at 1111 N. Dunlap Ave., Savoy, and 107 W. Green St., C; the Walgreens at 1509 S. Neil St., C; and Harvest Market in south Champaign — found gaps in formula supplies and emptier-looking shelves.

They all had at least some formula on their shelves, though parents may not necessarily find the brands and types they’re looking for.

What they will find in many instances are limits on how much they buy at a time, due to purchase restrictions placed by national chains such as CVS, Walgreens and Target.

Natalie Jablonski, spokesman for St. Louis-based Schnucks, said the grocery chain is working diligently to identify and source safe, approved substitutions that meet the needs of vulnerable populations, including WIC clients.

Schnucks stores are currently limiting formula purchases to five containers per customer, she said.

Quincy-based Niemann Foods, which owns County Market and Harvest Market grocery stores, does have formula in stock but may need to set purchase limits, according to Gerry Kettler, the chain’s director of consumer affairs.

Whether there will be a purchase limit and what it might be hasn’t yet been decided, he said Friday.

Meanwhile, Kettler said customers are being asked not to over-purchase for what they need.

Meline said WIC clients are indicating they may need to go to several stores to find formula, but they’re still able to buy it.

His concern at this point is that not everybody will have transportation to go from store to store, though he said, “we haven’t heard from anybody that they are not able to feed their child yet because of this.”

One factor in Champaign County’s favor is the sheer number of retail options available, so if formula stock is low at one store, there are many others that may have it, Meline said. Families in smaller rural counties won’t have all those options to shop around, he said.

He advises those shopping for formula to look beyond grocery stores. Drugstores and warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco also have formula.

Also, don’t overlook FDA-approved generic and store brands that would be nutritionally the same, he said.

Parents have been advised against both watering down baby formula to make it last longer and making homemade formula, and to check with their doctors before making substitutions in certain formulas and from formula to such things as cow’s milk or solid foods.

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