In the United States there is but one supplier of generic formula: a company named Perrigo Nutritionals.
Formerly known as Wyeth and bought out, Perrigo is an international manufacturer of private label over-the-counter pharmaceuticals (think the generic acetaminophen you buy at a fraction of the cost of Tylenol), including baby formula. And feeding generic can literally cut your year of formula feeding costs in half.
All of Perrigo’s formula – and therefore all generic baby formula in the United States – is produced in their laboratory and factory in Vermont.
Unrelated fun fact: these guys and gals are the people who invented the pull-tab open feature and formula scooper storage spot. If you’ve been formula feeding for as long as I have, you’ll remember that the tubs used to be primarily round and when you opened them you’d have to dig for the scooper. And when you weren’t using the scooper, it just kind of floated on top of the pile of powder inside the can. Perrigo brought hygiene, safety, and user-friendliness to formula feeding with their innovative tub design. Pretty cool!
The reason I highlight this company by name and location is because, unlike Similac, Enfamil, and Gerber– the leading American formula brands – all of the formula that Perrigo produces is the same (per type) and can be consumed by a baby interchangeably without risk of digestive upset.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Well, for instance, Enfamil Gentlease and Similac Sensitive are both partially hydrolyzed baby formulas (hydrolyzed = broken down proteins easier to digest) intended to aid with fussiness, gas, and spit-up. And they do a great job at treating those issues! However, despite both being partially hydrolyzed and containing near-identical ingredients in near-identical quantities – they are derived, processed, and manufactured differently. These albeit small differences DO make their products look different, feel different, smell different, and taste different (yes, I have tasted them all). Simply put, they are NOT the same product and your baby WILL notice the difference.
The fact that they’re “not equal” isn’t the end of the world, because caregivers feeding Gentlease or Sensitive are going to just keep on purchasing cans of Gentlease and Sensitive. They’re both readily available from all major retailers and in abundance online. I have never seen it go out-of-stock.
THE HIGH-DEMAND “PURPLE LABEL”
But caregivers who find themselves using the generic version of a partially hydrolyzed formula – known mostly as “Gentle” – may quickly realize that, of the generic brands available at the Target, Wal-Mart, Sams Club, Kroger where they shop for formula – the coveted “purple label” is repeatedly the least stocked or most likely to go out-of-stock (online too).
When formula is your baby’s sole or near-sole source of nutrition, it’s important to have reliable and easy access to the product you feed. Because, just as an abrupt switch from Enfamil Gentlease to Similac Sensitive will upset baby – an abrupt switch from generic Gentle to Gentlease or Sensitive will also be cause for upset. And we don’t need that drama!
I have actually reached out to companies like Target several times – at both low and high corporate levels – to explain to them this generic formula stocking issue. You would think that after observing year-after-year the mass purchasing of one generic formula and much less frequent purchasing of other types, they would change up their ordering behavior. Not so. “Purple labels” notoriously disappear off of store shelves or are harder to buy in high quantities than any other type of generic formula.
SO WHAT’S THE DEAL? WHY DOES “PURPLE” FLY OFF THE SHELVES?
Simply put, most babies do really, really well with partially hydrolyzed formulas. In fact, we recommend to our clients at Formula Feeding Helpline that all babies start right out on one of these. Standard formulas can work (Enfamil Newborn, Similac Advance), but they run such a high risk of causing constipation, spit-up, gas, and tummy troubles. The proteins in partially hydrolyzed formulas are closer to those of breast milk and babies just really thrive on “purple”.
My guess is that via pediatricians, through the grapevine, and after some trial-and-error – parents galore have figured out this fact. And so if they’re feeding generic, they’re flocking to buy up the purple label.
**The degree of hydrolyzation is different between name brand and generic partially hydrolyzed formulas. That is, generic formula is less hydrolyzed. Despite this fact, we see generic gentle capable of alleviating the same tummy upsets as the name brands, and the babies thrive just as well. We do not see generic partially hydrolyzed formula performing different or worse, despite this discrepancy.
HOW TO GET IT
Because generic formulas are all the exact same powder just slapped with different packaging labels of the respective stores selling them, you can store hop to get them.
Target Up and Up Gentle IS LITERALLY Wal-Mart Parent’s Choice Gentle IS LITERALLY Member’s Mark Gentle IS LITERALLY Babies “R” Us Gentle, and so on.
All of these generic store formula “brands” are the same thing:
The Targets where I live notoriously go out of stock of “purple label” every year around Christmas time. However, the Wal-Marts near where I live do a much better job of stocking purple consistently. So, every year around November/December I would make the longer trip to Wal-Mart. I, with my five babies, as well as countless clients I have advised, have personally used generics interchangeably (swapping store brands back and forth) with rave success.
In fact, you have open season on 68 retailers and over 40,000 retail locations nationwide!
So, go where there is more “purple,” or go where the deals are that week – doesn’t matter.
And this rule of thumb goes beyond purple/gentle, of course. “Yellow” labels (standard formula) are the same across store brands, as are soy, added rice, etc.
In general, formula feeding caregivers are not aware of how U.S. generic baby formula manufacturing and distribution works. I hope this helps explain a bit and shows you that, as a consumer, you stand to save a lot of money while also having a lot of freedom to shop where you want or need to. There is a whole wide world beyond Enfamil, Similac, and Gerber, friends!
Contact us today for help picking a formula, switching formulas, or finding a formula feeding schedule for your baby!