Expanding international partnerships delivered baby formula to U.S. shelves

Australian businesswoman Kristy Carr for years had wanted to export her Bubs Australia baby formula to the United States. But she never imagined how quickly it would happen.

Supplies of baby formula plunged this year, with U.S. supplies down by nearly half in May. The U.S. government partnered with Bubs Australia, which Carr began from her kitchen in 2005, to quickly and safely import formula to U.S. store shelves.

Within weeks, and with the help of several U.S. government agencies, the company delivered enough formula to fill more than 4.6 million baby bottles.

Operation Fly Formula

The process that Carr’s company navigated with U.S. government agencies, while working across time zones and sleeping on blow-up mattresses, became known as Operation Fly Formula. By mid-August, the mission had delivered enough safe and nutritious baby formula to fill more than 69 million bottles with imports from more than a half dozen countries.

“Everybody in the U.S. and Australia were working around the clock to make that happen,” Carr says of Bubs Australia’s first shipments of baby formula to the United States. “It was such a positive experience when government and industry come together with the sole focus of solving problems.”

Carr and others see the success of Operation Fly Formula as a blueprint for the collaboration needed to overcome the supply bottlenecks and challenges for critical goods and products that are snarling industries worldwide.

On July 19–20, the U.S. departments of State and Commerce hosted a Supply Chain Ministerial Forum where more than 18 economies committed to strengthening global supply chains. Carr participated and said that the ministerial revealed how companies across countries and sectors all face similar challenges with volatile, uncertain supply chains.

Attendees from governments, business, labor and underserved communities pledged to work together to tackle current shortages and build transparent, diversified and secure supply chains that respect environmental and labor standards.

Carr says Australia’s reputation for food safety and Bubs’ tight control over its supply chains made the company a good fit for U.S. markets. The fact that Bubs already exported toddler formula to the United States made the company familiar with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) health and safety requirements.

Service members using forklift to unload pallets from aircraft (© Michael Conroy/AP Images)
U.S. service members unload infant formula from Nestlé, a participant in Operation Fly Formula, at Indianapolis International Airport May 22. (© Michael Conroy/AP Images)

In May, the FDA issued guidance for baby formula manufacturers to safely export to the United States. Bubs provided nutritional information to the FDA and ramped up production to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The first flights of Bubs baby formula arrived in the United States by the second week in June. U.S. agencies contracted planes and had trucks waiting on the tarmac to expedite deliveries to major retailers.

Other FDA approvals allowed imports from producers in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand and Mexico. Those imports are projected to bring an additional 16 million kilograms of baby formula, enough for more than 524 million bottles by the end of November.

Carr says international cooperation expedited a process that could have taken months or years to a matter of weeks. “What was most pleasing to see was everyone on all sides — government, manufacturer, retailers and logistics providers — all about problem solving,” Carr said.