STURGIS, Mich. (WOOD) — Parents could soon see some relief from a national shortage of baby formula with a West Michigan plant scheduled to restart production Saturday after a February recall halted operations.
Marcel Zondag, the director of Western Michigan University’s supply chain management program, says the recall and closure of the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis shows just how important the site is to the national supply.
“It’s a pretty closed-off market with a limited number of suppliers,” Zondag said. “If the system breaks down, as it did, the voluntary recall and closing about 20% of the production capacity in the United States obviously has a bad effect on availability.”
Abbott voluntarily recalled certain types of formulas earlier this year after reports surfaced of babies becoming sick, suspected of being linked to the Abbott formula.
An FDA inspector found violations at the Sturgis plant that needed to be addressed before production could resume.
“Abbott has a large control of the market… because two-thirds of the additional supplemental nutrition benefits, or WIC, that is available in the United States are in exclusive contracts with Abbott,” Zondag said.
Zondag says it will still be weeks before parents start seeing the product more readily available on store shelves. The complexity of addressing the issue is also coupled with disruptions caused by the pandemic, including a shortage of labor.
“The problems they’re facing in the supply chain are the same that many industries face which is that raw materials, ingredients, are not easily available or are held up in transportation. Supplies of packaging materials are limited. Container transportation is also quite difficult,” Zondag said.
Abbott declined multiple requests to speak with News 8 on camera but says its products being made at the plant have passed safety tests and that the company is prioritizing the EleCare formulas, which are designed for babies and children with severe food allergies or gastrointestinal disorders.
“The product is just not available and when it is it is in limited quantities,” Zondag said.
The EleCare formulas will start being released to consumers on June 20.