While supply chain shortages have impacted all areas of life, the baby formula shortage that took place earlier this year was cause for concern for many American families – with ramifications that continue today. 

As current CivicScience data show, 6% of U.S. adults were directly impacted by the shortage, 20% say they know someone who was impacted, and 5% say that they and someone they know were impacted. That’s over 30% of U.S. adults impacted by the shortage this year (n=2,835).

The formula shortage is reported to have improved since the summer, and recent survey results show that around one-third of formula users say they are no longer having issues getting formula products. However, the shortage’s effects are lingering – another third of formula users are still experiencing problems finding and purchasing baby formula.  

Consumers have gone to great lengths to secure formula. Some of these include asking for help from family and friends, traveling long distances to buy formula, and even purchasing it on peer-to-peer marketplaces.

Without access to their usual favorites, 40% of formula buyers switched the type or brand of baby formula that they purchased over the course of the shortage. However, with supply chain issues improving, how will consumer behavior respond? 

Clearly, the majority of Americans who changed products during the shortage are of a mind to switch back to their previous formula brand, with 34% very likely to switch back and 23% having switched back already. 

Who is making the switch and what could be impacting their decision to do so? 

Current data reveal that the highest income earners are the most likely to have switched formula brands, while also being the most likely to have already switched back to their original preference. On the other end of the spectrum are those who make $50K or less. Nearly just as many survey respondents in this bracket have switched brands, but they are the second-most likely to have already switched back to their original formula.  

For both groups, despite their vastly different financial pictures, formula brand was important enough to NOT delay a return to their preference, as soon as supply was available. 

Of course, money is just one part of the equation. Availability at certain retailers also plays a role in who can purchase what. The data reflects this, revealing that those who shop at small, local and independent grocery stores were the most likely to change type or brand during the baby formula shortage. While this group is very likely to switch back, supercenter grocery shoppers (such as Target and Walmart shoppers) and membership club grocery shoppers (such as Costco shoppers) are the most likely to have already returned to their pre-shortage formula brand. 

Consumer opinions have shifted alongside the supply chain.

In July, 15% of consumers felt that retailers should be more strict on setting purchase limits on formula products. However, now that supply is increasing, just 13% feel the same. Today, more people are likely to have no opinion or an alternative opinion on purchase limits.

Given the decrease in demand as shortages ease, opinions on buying and selling international formula brands have also shifted. While 43% of U.S. adults currently agree that international formula brands should be allowed to be bought and sold in the U.S., 53% felt this way in July when supply was scarce and tensions were high. 

As baby formula supply begins to rebound from its peak shortage days, consumer behavior is rebounding as well. Many impacted families, regardless of income, are switching back to their pre-shortage preferred brands, and looking less to international baby food brands to alleviate the shortage. All of this seems to suggest that while consumers will adapt under pressure, when it comes to baby food formula, brand is key.