How far will Operation Fly Formula shipments really go to fill US store shelves?

According to the White House, the first two flights of Operation Fly Formula brought in 170,000 pounds of Gerber and Alfamino formulas. Subsequent announcements included 300,000 pounds of two types of formula made in the UK by Kendamil, 380,000 pounds of Bubs brand infant formula from Australia and 110,000 pounds of a formula made in Germany by Nestlé called Nan Supreme Pro. Taken together, that’s 960,000 pounds of formula, enough to make 11.4 million 8-ounce bottles.

That’s a sizable amount, but how far will this formula really go to fill the shelves of America’s naked stores?

One way to answer this question is to look at the volume of dry formula typically sold each month in the United States. According to market research firm Information Resources Incorporated, or IRI, about 561,000 pounds of dry powder were sold on average every day in 2021, or about 17 million pounds every month.

The 960,000 pounds from shipments of Operation Fly formula represents about two days of typical formula sales or about 6% of powdered formula sold in an average month in 2020 and 2021, according to a CNN analysis. CNN looked back on those years because they represent more typical consumption in a very stable market, before a nationwide formula recall compounded supply chain issues and led to a acute shortage in early 2022.

IRI data is often cited by the White House as a measure of the severity of the shortage. Its data shows about 26% of formula products were out of stock in the last week of May, up from 10% before the recall.

A White House spokesperson said CNN’s analysis was “in the ballpark” but the missions announced so far represent “only a small portion” of the commitments made. Further flights are “on the way and more will be announced”, which would bring 10 times more formula, enough to produce a total of 127.5 million bottles. On Friday, a day after CNN shared that analysis, the White House announced the latest mission that is expected to bring an additional 212,000 pounds of infant formula to the United States by the end of the month.

IRI would not comment specifically on White House activities, but agreed the analysis was accurate. He noted that, for most products, adding 6% product to the mix can help ease tensions in a tight market.

Additionally, IRI’s sales data represents national numbers, and Operation Fly formula deliveries may have more impact in some locations, especially for those who need a specialty formula.

Other experts agree.

“It will make a noticeable difference,” said Dr. Steve Abrams, outgoing chair of the American Association of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition.

Abrams says Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, once produced between 15% and 20% of all infant formula produced in the United States.

Abbott restarts production of specialty formulas at its Michigan plant

This facility reopened about a week ago after it closed to address safety issues identified by a US Food and Drug Administration inspection. Abbott said it will focus initial production on manufacturing EleCare specialty formula, an amino acid-based formula for babies and children with complex medical and digestive issues. It will start dispensing EleCare around June 20, but the powdered Similac will take weeks longer to come back.

“We are also working hard to accomplish the steps necessary to restart production of Similac and other formulas and will do so as soon as possible,” the company said Saturday.

In the meantime, the FDA is using its discretion to allow more international manufacturers to sell their formula in this country.

Abrams says that although only three international manufacturers have obtained FDA clearance to sell new products in the United States here, he has heard that several dozen companies have applied for clearance. So he expects more products to be on the way soon.

But beyond the numbers, says Abrams, appearances will matter. Because these formula brands have never been seen in the United States before, he thinks people will really take notice when they arrive — a solid sign that help is on the way.

“When these formulas hit the stores, I think you’re going to see a lot of hoarding and stress relief,” said Abrams, who is also a neonatologist at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. “I think there’s going to be this big hurrah when people can go to Target and review the formula. So that effect can go beyond the volume.”

Part of that formula arrived on Thursday. Nestlé says 62,500 cans of Nan Supreme Pro 1 will be sold on Gerber, Walmart, Kroger and Amazon websites within days of their arrival.

The company says it will only sell the product online so it can give parents and carers important instructions on how to use it.

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