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Why Is Baby Formula Locked Up? Does It Really Get Stolen?

If you are formula feeding your baby you will be aware that often formula is kept locked up in cabinets or behind Plexiglas in lots of stores.

It’s a bit annoying not being able to just grab your baby’s formula quickly off the shelf but it’s not a major drama, right? Have you ever wondered though why is baby formula locked up? Does it really get stolen?

You may be shocked to hear that baby formula is regularly stolen and needs to be securely displayed in stores. In this article, we explore the different reasons why the baby formula is locked up in stores. 

Why Is Baby Formula Locked In Stores? 

When your baby is screaming for a feed and you’re out of formula, the last thing you want is to have to wait for assistance in the grocery store and for an employee to get the container of formula for you.

However, there are many reasons why the baby formula is always locked up:

Parents steal formula because they can’t afford it

Formula is expensive and babies drink a lot of milk during their first year. It doesn’t take long for a baby to work its way through a can of formula and parents can end up spending over a thousand dollars just on milk in their baby’s first year of life.

Sometimes parents feel like they are left with no choice other than to steal formula so they can feed their baby. 

Criminals steal formula to sell

Baby milk is a highly sought-after product and there is a real market for cheaper formula. There are many criminal rings that steal formula milk and sell it to parents at a cheaper price tag than at the store.

Thieves can make a huge profit selling stolen formula to desperate parents.

There is a huge market for more affordable formula but buying stolen formula is not safe as parents can not be sure the formula has been stored correctly and safely or that it has not expired or already been opened. 

People steal formula to return for cash at another store

Some thieves will steal containers of formula from one store and then try to return the milk for store credit somewhere else. This does not always work as many stores will no longer accept returns on formula and others will not do so without a receipt. 

Is Baby Formula Used To Make Drugs?

baby milk formula

While it may seem that the most obvious reason why formula is locked up is to prevent parents from stealing it for their children. The formula is also locked up in stores to keep it out of the hands of criminals making and selling drugs. 

Baby formula can be mixed into drugs like heroin and cocaine. Drug dealers use baby formula to dilute the drugs they are selling so their supply can last longer and they can make more money. 

Stores have decided to keep formula locked away to avoid members of criminal rings from stealing it and using it as a drug additive. 

Is Baby Formula Stolen Regularly?

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why formula is locked up in stores.

With the high demand for more affordable formula milk and the fact criminals use formula as a drug additive or try to return it for store credit, it is not a surprise that stores are taking matters into their own hands and keeping this valuable product securely locked away.

Are store owners overreacting though? Is formula really stolen that often?

In 2017 $4.3billion of baby formula was stolen from stores in the US. A large criminal ring was arrested in 2009 and they were responsible for the theft of $2 million worth of baby formula!

Stores are attempting to crack down on formula theft by keeping it locked up in secure cabinets or storing it behind the counter.

Also, many stores will no longer accept returns of formula milk to try and discourage people from stealing it to try and get store credit. Most stores that do still accept returns of formula milk will only accept the returned product if you have a receipt. 

What To Do If You Can’t Afford Baby Formula?

formula return policy

Stealing formula may feel like the only option for some parents. No one wants to watch their baby cry in hunger and for families living in poverty or on a low income, sometimes stealing seems to be their only choice.

However, if you can’t afford baby formula there are services out there that can help you, you don’t have to resort to stealing it from the store. 

Here is a list of what to do if you can’t afford baby formula 

Swap brands

If your baby is not drinking a specific formula for medical reasons, you can try switching to a cheaper brand of formula.

All formula milk is made to provide your baby with all the nutrients they need and even the cheaper store’s own brands will be providing your baby with everything they need.

Some formula brands are really expensive, if you are using one of the pricey kinds of milk then try swapping to a brand that better suits your budget. 

Speak to your pediatrician

Your pediatrician is there to help you keep your baby healthy and they will be able to help you if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t afford formula milk.

Call your pediatrician and see if they have a small supply of formula they can give to your baby.

This can not be relied upon as a regular solution to not being able to afford formula milk but it is important you make your pediatrician aware of your situation as they will be able to direct you to services that can help you. 

Contact your local WIC

WIC (Women Infants and Children) is a government program that provides families with baby formula, as well as other healthy food and nutritional help.

You must meet specific criteria to qualify for free formula milk through WIC but if you are struggling to buy formula for your baby it is definitely worth looking into this service. The SNAP service is another government program that helps parents who qualify to afford baby formula. 

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Food banks

If you do not qualify for the services above, it can be worth going to your local food bank and enquiring if they have any formula milk. You may not be able to afford formula at grocery store prices but your local food bank may have some available for you. 

Buy in bulk and look for sales

As you now know, criminals steal formula milk to sell to parents at cheaper rates than the grocery store. This may be a tempting option but you can not guarantee the safety of that milk and you are putting your money into the pockets of thieves.

However, you can buy formula milk in sales from reputable online stores for less money than you would pay at your local grocery store. Bulk buying from online retailers can also help you to spend less money on formula in the long term.


Is selling baby formula illegal?

It is not illegal to sell any baby formula that you have acquired through legal means. But it must not be from any government programs such as WIC.

Is it ok to switch formula back and forth?

Switching between brands is not a problem but it can cause your baby to have an upset stomach for a few days while they get used to a different brand. If need be you can mix different brands of the same type of formula if you feel that your baby is happier with a mixture of brands.

How can you tell if formula upsets baby?

There are a few signs that your baby is allergic to the formula you are feeding them: excessive crying or fussiness after a feed; extra gas; very loose or watery stools.

The Final Thought 

Baby formula milk is locked up in stores for several reasons. It may be a bit of an inconvenience that you have to ask a store employee to get your formula for you but there are plenty of reasons why this is the case.

We hope after reading this article you now have a greater understanding of why baby formula is locked up in stores and of the reasons why people steal it. 

If you are struggling to feed your baby, resorting to theft is not the answer; there are services available to help you and there are ways you can save money on baby formula too.

Stores keep their baby formula locked up because they feel it is the best way to deal with the growing number of formula thefts that have been happening in recent years.