ALBANY, N.Y. -- Liquid baby formula has mysteriously become a hot commodity in these parts.
According to reports, groups of men have been entering supermarkets throughout upstate New York late at night and buying all the cases of canned formula on the shelves and asking clerks if they can purchase all the formula in stock in the back room. Spot shortages have been seen since September.
Reports of the formula buying sprees even made the evening TV news in New York City. In one, a camera panned a bare baby formula aisle. The reporter interviewed shoppers with babies in tow in the parking lot of the Johnstown Price Chopper who said they were having trouble finding formula to feed their children.
Speculation as to the sudden popularity of liquid formula in the region has ranged from it being bought to be resold or shipped overseas to being used in the processing of cocaine, a theory dismissed by authorities.
"We have been receiving lots of calls about the formula, and we have no idea what they are doing with it. My guess is that they are sending it to Haiti. I can't see them cutting dope with liquid Similac," Bob Talbot, a spokesman with the Drug Enforcement Agency here, told SN.
Some retailers contacted by SN said they had experienced shortages, while others did not.
"We have noticed shortages of infant formula in our upstate New York stores and we have imposed a two-case limit on purchases of baby formula that has a high iron content. We want to make sure that we have ample supply to meet all of our customers' needs," said Donald Vaillancourt, corporate vice president of corporate communications and consumer affairs at Grand Union Co., Wayne, N.J.
"It is being sold in case quantity, but more than the usual quantity. These are being sold in multiple-case quantities. Who is buying it? We don't know. What are they using it for? We don't know. Obviously, the sale is legal," he said. Joanne Gage, vice president of consumer services at Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., said although her chain hasn't experienced any major shortages, it decided to impose a two-case limit per customer as a precaution. "After we imposed the limit I did get one call from one person who asked to purchase 100 cases. I said 'no' and asked him what he was going to do with it, and he said that he was going to ship it overseas," she said.
"We are aware, through the media in the Schenectady-Albany area, that there is a group of people who were purchasing large amounts, but it has not affected our stores," said Sue Hosey, vice president of consumer affairs at P&C Food Markets, Syracuse, N.Y.
Robert Gelardi, executive director for the Atlanta-based Infant Formula Council, told SN there isn't a shortage of infant formula and the large purchases appear to be confined to upstate New York.