British Columbia

Hoarding, panic buying concerns lead some B.C. stores to temporarily limit baby formula sales

The limits come as the U.S. grapples with a severe, ongoing formula shortage brought about by a recall by the country’s largest producer. A member of the retail sector says Canada's supply of most types of formula should remain strong if people buy regular amounts.

Most formula stocks robust in Canada, officials say, but concern remains over special formula types

Baby formula is pictured on a shelf — along with a notice on sale limits — at a London Drugs in Surrey, British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

To reduce the chances of panic buying, a number of B.C. retailers say they are putting limits on how much baby formula shoppers can purchase in a trip.

The limits come as the U.S. grapples with a severe, ongoing formula shortage brought about by a recall by the country's largest producer.

Greg Wilson with the Retail Council of Canada says most stores in B.C. are reporting that their stocks of most types of formula are in good shape and the purchase limits are simply precautionary.

"This is a situation where, you know, we're once again asking people not to hoard because it's important that your neighbours and friends also have access to supply," Wilson said, adding that some stores may have less than others.

"If people buy it at the normal cadence that they would buy it … we should be okay."

While some stores will have varying quantities of varying products, the Retail Council of Canada says the overall baby formula supply in B.C. and Canada remains strong. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

CBC observed a number of Vancouver-area stores with signs advising shoppers of a limit of one or two formula items. 

When contacted, the stores' communication departments generally said the limits would be temporary.

Stores respond

Locations of London Drugs, No Frills, Save On Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart all had the limits in place as of Friday.

London Drugs, in an email, said it would limit customers to one formula item for now, but hoped to raise the limit to two items by mid-June. The Richmond-headquartered retailer expects to have limits in place until the fall.

Wal-Mart said it is limiting customers to two items until the end of this month.

Retailers say the limits are not a sign of imminent baby formula supply problems, but rather an effort to ensure households can all have a chance at buying what they need. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Loblaw, the parent company of stores like No Frills, Shoppers Drug Mart and Superstore, said its supply levels are good but "recent media coverage has driven panic buying and hoarding in some places," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

"To ensure we continue to have enough supply for everyone who needs it, we will implement limits where necessary," the company said.

Save On Foods, Costco and Safeways' parent company, Sobey's, did not respond to CBC's requests for comment by the time this article was published.

Some special types could be a concern

Health Canada said it is working to mitigate any potential supply issues brought about by the issues with Abbott, the U.S. producer, which does ship product to Canada.

It said it is temporarily loosening some importation requirements when it comes to product labelling and composition for formula from "foreign jurisdictions that have high quality and manufacturing standards similar to Canada."

The Abbott manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan. Problems at the facility kickstarted a concerning shortage of baby formula in the U.S. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

"Health Canada wants to assure everyone that all products imported to mitigate the shortage and for which CFIA will apply discretionary enforcement are safe," an agency spokesperson wrote in an email, adding all such products are being assessed for safety.

While most indications seem to be the formula supply is stable overall, B.C.'s Ministry of Health notes there are concerns about supplies of some specialized formulas for babies with food allergies and other health concerns. Those formulas are largely produced in the U.S.

The ministry said it is working with Health Canada on that issue.

"Our hospitals have not been impacted by the formula shortage, and all babies, including those with allergies and medical conditions, continue to get the formula they need," a spokesperson wrote.

The ministry said parents with concerns should speak to their health-care provider, and that they should not try to make formula at home or dilute store-bought formula as this could harm the health of a baby.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.

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