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

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

The Retail Council of Canada says some baby formula retailers have begun restricting sales in Canada to cope with spiked demand amid a recall of certain Abbott products.

A dearth 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.

While Canada is not experiencing the bare shelves seen at many stores south of the border, she says she knows of at least two national retailers that have begun curtailing online availability.

“Some of them do have a limit on online orders for formula of two units per product. And this is to ensure that their stores are able to have stock available for customers who come in to purchase,” says Wasylyshen.

The move comes amid fears that an ongoing shortage in the United States could spark similar feeding woes here. Although Canadian retailers use different supply chains, Wasylyshen acknowledged that was a possibility.

“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 U.S. 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, though 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 U.S. 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.

Nursing mom Alanna Keeley in Orangeville, Ont. says she had a rough start to breastfeeding and the only formula her eight-week-old twins can tolerate is Abbott’s Alimentum.

She bought four cans before they were born but has not been able to find the powdered or liquid versions since. They’ve adjusted to pumped breast milk but with a toddler to also care for, Keeley says it’s difficult to keep pace with the twins’ demands, which involve 30 minutes of pumping every two hours.

“There’s no formula that they’ll take except for the one that’s out of stock everywhere,” she says.

“We’re spending all of the time that we’re up in the night looking on Amazon, looking on Walmart, looking at Costco, like everywhere. And every time we go to a store, we ask: Do you have the Similac? And we have friends and family in different cities watching out for it. And no one’s found any yet.”

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.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press