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A woman mixes a bottle of formula using the family's last can as they struggle to find formula for their five-month-old daughter amid shortages in infant and toddler formula, in Houston, Texas, US, on May 19 2022. Picture: REUTERS/CALLAGHAN O'HARE
A woman mixes a bottle of formula using the family's last can as they struggle to find formula for their five-month-old daughter amid shortages in infant and toddler formula, in Houston, Texas, US, on May 19 2022. Picture: REUTERS/CALLAGHAN O'HARE

London/Los Angeles — Aptamil maker Danone has stepped up shipments of infant formula from Europe to the US, according to US customs data and shipping consultancy Ocean Audit, which analysed ocean cargo data exclusively for Reuters.

Danone, the world’s second biggest baby formula maker but a relatively small player in the US market, shipped much of the product from the UK and the Netherlands by ocean freight through its Nutricia North America arm, after a February 17 recall by top manufacturer Abbott Laboratories touched off the US shortage.

Between January and May, Danone's Nutricia division more than tripled its ocean imports to North America, and more than 90% was delivered to the US, Ocean Audit CEO Steve Ferreira said.

Abbott recalled dozens of types of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas, creating one of the most urgent food shortages in recent history for American families.

“We understand how important it is for families to access these specialised formulas which is why our absolute priority has been to increase production and supply of these medical formulas to serve the most vulnerable babies since the shortages arose in February,” a Danone spokesperson said.

On May 10, three days before US President Joe Biden took to the airwaves with his plan for addressing the nation's baby formula shortage, the Independent Quest sailed into the Port of Philadelphia to deliver 42,000 cans of Danone formula.

It was rapidly dispatched to Jeffersonville, Indiana to be distributed to retailers that for weeks had to limit how much infant formula mothers could buy. “If it comes into the port on a Monday, I'm almost certain that they would have it out by Tuesday or Wednesday because the product's so hot,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira said his data showed that from January 1 2021 to May 1 2021, Danone Nutricia sent nearly 770,000 cans of infant formula, filling roughly 100 cargo containers, to North America. During the comparable period this year, the number skyrocketed to more than 2.4-million cans, he said.

Of that product, 93% went to East Coast US ports, while 7% went to ocean gateways in Mexico, Ferreira said.

Separate US customs data analysed by Reuters shows that on February 22, five days after the Abbott recall, nearly 38,000kg of Danone Nutricia cargo arrived in the US from the UK and the Netherlands. The customs data did not specify the exact nature of the cargo, but described some of it as “clinical nutrition powder” and “medical nutrition”. On March 9, roughly 34,000kg more cargo arrived, followed by nearly 30,000kg on March 30.

Reuters could not obtain records confirming Danone's airborne baby formula imports. 

Reuters

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