Walmart says baby formula availability improving in its stores

Aug 16 (Reuters) - Walmart Inc, the largest U.S. retailer, said on Tuesday the availability of baby formula in its stores was improving months after the country experienced acute shortages that had caused a panic among parents.

The shortage, initially spurred by pandemic-induced supply chain issues, was exacerbated in February when Abbott Laboratories, the biggest U.S. supplier of baby formula, recalled some products and closed a manufacturing plant on reports of bacterial infections.

In response to the shortage, U.S. health regulators have since relaxed import policies and shipped in millions of cans of emergency supplies from companies such as Nestle SA and Reckitt Benckiser.

Abbott in early July resumed partial production of certain specialty and metabolic formulas at its Sturgis facility as well as imported baby formula products from its international plants to boost supplies.

Walmart Chief Financial Officer John David Rainey said on an earnings call on Tuesday that the shortage of baby formula products the company experienced in a "big way" in the second quarter was improving.

The retail bellwether also said it now expects a smaller drop in its annual profit forecast as discounts to clear excess merchandise and lower fuel prices helped it beat expectations for quarterly sales. (Reporting by Ananya Mariam Rajesh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)