Canadian parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place when faced with the rising cost and dwindling supply of baby formula.

Ashleigh Ottley, a 20-year-old mother from Chilliwack, B.C. who is unable to produce enough breast milk following an emergency C-section said that she has had to have family members living in other parts of the country mail her formula.

Her son Colt is only able to stomach the Similac formula, which has become evermore difficult to procure at grocery outlets like Walmart. 

“At what point do you stop calling it a shortage because it’s been so long?” Ottley told CBC News in an interview. 

Supply chain shortages from U.S. manufacturers are being felt by families with small infants across Canada, and with fewer supplies available, the price continues to rise. 

Between September 2022 and September 2023, the price of formula went up by over 20%, going from $31 per bottle to over $38 per bottle. 

“Infant formula has risen [in price] almost five times more than the average food product in a grocery store since March of 2022,” said Dalhousie University food policy researcher Sylvain Charlebois. “That is pretty significant.”

Ottley’s son Colt consumes between 24 and 30 ounces of formula daily, costing his mother over $280 per month. 

“It’s rough,” said Ottley. “I’m spending $70 a week, when I could be putting that money in a gas tank.” 

Recently Walmart released a statement regarding the formula shortage, writing, “In the face of ongoing global, industry-wide supply challenges with baby formula, and other market pressures — including double-digit price increases from suppliers over the last two years — we continue to do our absolute best every day to make it easier for customers to find formula on a budget.

“Despite these challenges, we have about 90 per cent more inventory in stores compared to the same time last year.”

A non-profit in Chilliwack called the Meadow Rose Society helps to support families in financial crisis who have young children at home. However, even the Meadow Rose Society has been faced with challenges in keeping their baby formula stocked and affordable over the past several months. 

“Generally, [you can purchase] just two jars or two packages of formula,” said Jackie Kingma-Glattfelder, executive director of the non-profit, adding, “the stuff that’s reasonably priced is not on the shelves.”

According to Kingma-Glattfelder, the Meadow Rose Society has received 1,240 visits this year from 210 registered clients. In past years, they would have received an additional two or three clients per month, however in 2023, it’s been closer to 16 new clients each month. 

Health Canada is looking into working with domestic production companies to produce baby formula which “could help to alleviate the limited supply.” 

Charlebois said that because fewer Canadians are having children, private companies may be less likely to invest in formula manufacturing, however, he suggested the Canada Royal Milk plant as a potential solution.

The plant, which is located in Kingston, Ont. was part of $332 million investment from a Chinese company and supported by all three levels of government. The plant is managed by executives from China and Canada. 

The initial objective of the plant was to export the vast majority of its output to China but Charlebois thinks it may be possible to negotiate a deal with the Chinese partners to retain some of the formula for Canadian consumers. 

“The Kingston-based plant is actually our best bet because it’s already built,” said Charlebois. “There’s some capacity there, so why not talk to the Chinese?”