FedEx, United to deliver foreign-made baby formula to Dallas

A white FedEx jet with a blue tail lifts off the runway with warehouses in the background.

A FedEx Express MD-11 freighter and a United Airlines passenger jet are scheduled to land Thursday afternoon at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport with emergency shipments of baby formula organized by the Biden administration as part of its campaign to alleviate a critical domestic food shortage for infants.

The FedEx (NYSE: FDX) charter flight from Cologne, Germany, is carrying 110,000 pounds of Nestle infant formula, which can make about 1.6 million eight-ounce bottles. 

The Department of Health and Human Services said  Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to DFW to greet the arrival of the Operation Fly Formula flight operated by FedEx.

United Airlines is donating space on regularly scheduled passenger flights to carry 300,000 pounds of Kendamil infant formula from London Heathrow airport to various U.S. cities, including Dallas, over a 10-day period. The administration and the airline originally announced the operation would take three weeks but have now compressed the schedule. The United flight is scheduled to land a few hours after the one from FedEx, according to an HHS press advisory.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration, an HHS subagency, announced it is exercising enforcement discretion so Nestle can export additional baby formula into the U.S. The company will import both standard and specialty infant formulas, including Nestle NAN SupremePro 1, Nestle NAN SupremePro 2, Nestle Health Science Alfamino/Alfamino, Jr., Gerber Good Start Gentle and Gerber Good Start Extensive HA. Nestle plans to export about 41 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents into the U.S. market.

The White House on Monday said the Nestle products will be available across the country through the company’s distribution channels, with additional deliveries to be announced soon. 

Meanwhile, an HHS spokesperson said flights carrying 380,000 pounds of Bubs Australia infant formula — enough for 4.6 million bottles —  from Melbourne to Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio, are now expected to arrive Sunday and next Thursday. The shipment to Rickenbacker airport in Columbus will be trucked to Nestle’s Pennsylvania facility. The White House previously said the shipments were scheduled for Thursday and Saturday and didn’t name specific destinations.

The combined Bubs Australia and Kendamil shipments have formula for 8.3 million standard bottles. 

Operation Fly Formula

President Joe Biden launched the airlift of formula from overseas three weeks ago to temporarily plug the gap in domestic production caused by supply chain disruptions and the three-month closure of Abbott Laboratories’ main facility in Sturgis, Michigan, because of unsanitary conditions and concerns over contamination. The departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture are coordinating with manufacturers to identify available overseas stocks that meet U.S. safety standards, while the Department of Defense is using existing contracts with the commercial sector to arrange air transport.

The first Operation Fly Formula missions involved  a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jet that delivered a different brand of Nestlé formula from Germany to Indianapolis and a FedEx MD-11 that brought Nestle’s Gerber Good Start Extensive HA from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Dulles airport outside Washington. The shipment was then trucked to Nestle’s distribution center in Pennsylvania.

The Defense Department used a military aircraft in the first instance because it couldn’t find an available commercial partner in time. HHS directly arranged the United flights without the DOD’s participation because there was no need to leverage a government contract.

The administration has worked furiously over the past month to alleviate the infant formula shortage after criticism it was slow to respond as parents increasingly faced empty retail shelves during the spring. 

In addition to setting up Operation Fly Formula, HHS Secretary Becerra invoked the Defense Production Act three times to ensure food distribution giant Cargill and formula makers Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) and Mead Johnson/Reckitt (OTCUS: RBYLY) get first-in-line treatment from suppliers for key ingredients. The FDA has also cut red tape so major formula manufacturers can import formulas currently not being produced for the U.S. market and worked with the Justice Department on a plan allowing Abbott to restart operations at the Sturgis plant if a lengthy list of conditions are met. Also, the Agriculture Department has implemented new guidance giving states and retailers more flexibility in how formula is sold to recipients of Women Infants and Children benefits.

Abbott said earlier this week that the Sturgis plant has reopened and deliveries will commence later this month. 

Some market research indicates stock-out levels remain high, but the White House says it has more reliable data showing improved formula availability. It acknowledges that specialty formulas can be extremely difficult to find. 

More FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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