With shelves empty, the fight to restock baby formula in NYC takes aim at price gougers

Baby Formula
Demand for baby formula in the U.S. surged as parents hoarded supply during the pandemic in 2020.
Photo courtesy AFP via Getty Images

A traditional sight in Bronx supermarkets and bodegas were cans of Similac and other baby formula housed in anti-theft window displays as the scale of baby formula shoplifting became so vast that it not only became an interstate problem but pushed the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to force chain stores to install elaborate anti-theft devices in 2011.

However, those same shelves and displays in the Bronx and beyond the city’s borders are now empty, with myriad factors driving the nationwide baby formula shortage.

First, demand for formula surged as parents hoarded supply during the pandemic in 2020. Demand then fell, leading suppliers to cut back production through 2021, which didn’t account for a resurge in demand this year with more new mothers demanding more formula than a recovering supply chain can produce.

Additionally, baby formula is expensive, if you ask most Bronx mothers. And fears of price gouging the formula shortage and an overall global rise in inflation, have many mothers lost for answers.

“If you walk into CVS, it’s $15 for formula, and I can’t just afford that. What type of mom does that make me that I can’t provide formula for my son?” said Rose Alvado, a new Castle Hill mother of a three-month-old Hector. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

An online market of baby formula sellers and price gougers has also capitalized on the shortage where websites like eBay, Craigslist and Facebook communities are marking up valuable baby formula by as much as 300%. In a May 13 letter from Connecticut Democrats sent to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, they warned that they were aware of price gouging and scams targeting parents specifically on sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

A collaborative effort by Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council’s Women’s Caucus is hoping to address the nationwide shortage in baby formula, which led the mayor, on Sunday, to implement an emergency executive order which will empower the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to prevent price gouging for formula.

Lack of formula has sent at least four babies to a children’s hospital in South Carolina, and Atlanta area hospitals are also treating children due to the shortage.

Emergency Executive Order 98 (EEO 98) declares a state of emergency in New York City and creates a multiagency effort to ensure the supply of formula is available for all families, especially those most in need.

“The nationwide infant formula shortage has caused unimaginable pain and anxiety for families across New York — and we must act with urgency,” Adams said in a statement. The mayor noted that more than 40% of retailers in the tri-state area are out of stock of formula.

Spotlighting the need for baby formula in the city and the ill-affects on babies without it, the City Council’s Women’s Caucus organized a full-court press to bring attention to the issue.

“The shortage of baby formula is putting the health of too many families at risk,” said Parkchester Councilmember Amanda Farías, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. “I am proud to support members of the Women’s Caucus … who took critical action in the face of a major health crisis. Thank you Mayor Eric Adams for recognizing the urgency of this shortage and working with the women of the City Council to protect our working families.”

New Yorkers who are overcharged for formula can file a complaint with the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. In the interim, local community groups have been on the ground attempting to secure formula for community members, like a Kew Gardens community group, Sisters With Purpose, Inc., who received 20 boxes of Enfamil baby formula to hand out during their weekly food pantry.

On Monday, the U.S. procured a shipment of infant formula intended to fill the nationwide shortage from Europe, and a second flight was expected to bring additional supplies in the coming days, the Biden administration announced.

The shipment, equivalent to about 500,000 eight-ounce bottles, contained a hypoallergenic formula for children with cow’s milk protein allergy, the White House said in a statement. It provides enough formula to take care of 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week, according to Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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