Grocery stores on Whidbey Island look like many of the grocery stores across the country, with shelves once lined with baby formula now bare.
The nationwide shortage is affecting many local parents and retailers, as well as the larger chain stores on the island such as Rite Aid and Walmart. Parents who rely on formula to feed their babies have limited options.
“I’m in the same boat every other store is,” said Mike Pearson, manager of Prairie Center Market in Coupeville. “We’re just begging for product, hoping we can get some.”
Pearson said they get regular questions from parents asking for formula.
“We’ve been able to keep a little bit on the shelf, but there’s so many specific needs out there,” he said. “It’s tough to have the right one for each customer.”
Federal officials from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, first alerted his store that the shortage was coming about a month ago.
“That’s when they sort of expanded their portfolio, offered some new varieties that we could bring in that would meet WIC expectations,” Pearson said.
For the Goose Community Grocer in Langley, formula is not a big seller but they’ve seen more customers than usual coming in to buy it.
“It’s just been very frustrating,” said Kayla Leganza, manager of the Goose.
The Goose staff has been ordering every type of formula they can and usually receive one or two types each delivery. She said she hopes the shortage is over soon.
The Star Store, also in Langley, is a much smaller store but has also noticed the formula shortage’s effects.
“A lot of these markets that you’re seeing on the news have a formula section that is a quarter of the size of our store,” said Gene Felton, the owner of the Star Store.
The baby formula the store specializes in is natural and organic and the store doesn’t sell a large volume of it, even before the shortage. They have been out of stock of Similac.
In Haagen Food & Pharmacy in Oak Harbor, there is a recall notice up for Similac, Alimentum, or EleCare by Abbott Nutrition for powdered infant formulas. This recall, along with a shutdown of an Abbott facility in Michigan, has contributed greatly to the nationwide shortage.
In Walmart and Safeway, customers are limited to five baby formula products per person “to ensure availability of product to all customers,” reads the sign in Safeway.
Aila Oldham, who lives in Oak Harbor, has a seven-month-old child. She and her family moved to Whidbey Island from Ohio last December. She originally ordered formula online and noticed the shortage a couple months later.
“Now you drive to Burlington and drive to the stores near here and you can’t find any,” she said. “So it’s kind of one of those nerve-wracking things.”
Oldham has relied heavily on friends and family who live out of state to ship her the formula her baby needs. She’s gotten formula from Las Vegas, Virginia and her family back home in Ohio. Her mother and father-in-law have driven as far as Marysville and Bellingham to find formula but couldn’t locate the kind that she uses.
“But I’m kind of at one of those points where I’m like, ‘just grab what you can find,’” she said.
She was able to receive formula from her daughter’s pediatrician in Langley. Her advice to other parents is to also ask their pediatrician for assistance. She has seen posts on Facebook about how to make your own formula and to be wary of these “formula hacks” that are going around on the internet.
In the Whidbey Island community group on Facebook, there have been frequent posts about which stores have formula, and people have been supporting their fellow residents by giving away any formula they don’t need.
On May 18, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen voted for an emergency supplemental spending bill of $28 million to improve the infant formula supply. Larsen also voted for a bill to give WIC and the federal government power to “relax certain non-safety-related regulations during times of shortage,” according to a press release. Larsen has released a list of local resources for Northwest Washington families, which can be found on the homepage of his website larsen.house.gov.