Store-brand Generic Formulas:  The New Kids in Town


By Anthony Kovatch, M.D., F.A.A.P. — Pediatrician, Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia Division


Milk-based infant formulas have evolved over the years in the attempt to simulate the gold standard:  breast milk.   With the addition of ingredients to nutritionally match breast milk (such as DHA, ARA, nucleotides, and prebiotics), and with modifications in content, which strive to match the digestibility and tolerability of breast milk, (such as the specialized formulas Enfamil Gentlease and Similac Sensitive), the evolution seemed complete.

However, in the past several years an enterprising company—PBM Nutritional, LLC , a subsidiary of the Perrigo  corporation and based in Georgia, Vermont—has produced generic formulas identical in practically every way to the traditional brands, including most of the specialized varieties. With the composition controlled by the Federal Drug Administration and with the approval of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the generic “Store Brand” formulas differ from the originals in only two ways:  labeling and price.  After distribution by the parent company (PBM) to most retail pharmacy and supermarket chains, these formulas are shelved side-by-side with the originals and bear their own unique labels and mascots.  (For example, the RiteAid “Tugaboos” brand has a cute little monkey on the label and flashes a price tag which is nearly half the price of the Enfamil Lipil it compares itself to ($26 versus $14 for a large can in the Pittsburgh area).    The only varieties yet to be duplicated are the hypoallergenic formulas, such as Enfamil’s Nutramigen and Similac’s Alimentum.

The choice for parents may be confounding:  A tried-and-true product researched and developed by a well-known company versus a “copycat” product with a lesser price—-a true generic.  PBM is convinced that the significantly lower cost will eliminate some of the negative consequences of expensive formula:  diluting, restricting volume, changing to whole cow’s milk too early (before one year of age), starting solid foods prematurely.

The pros and cons of these “new kids in town” have been elaborated upon here.  But as always, discuss with your pediatrician, who may have his/her own views on the subject.


— Editor’s Note:  Pediatric Alliance and The PediaBlog do not endorse one brand of formula over another.  Individual doctors and divisions may have their own preferences.  

The three major brands — Similac, Enfamil, and Gerber — will all be quick to tell you that their companies have done all the research to bring infant formulas as close as possible to breast milk.  They will also tell you that their specialized formulas  (for colic, gas, reflux, milk-protein allergy for example)  and super-specialized formulas (for premature babies, infants with specific and rare metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders, growing toddlers, and more) are not produced by generic formula-makers.  On both counts, they are correct.  These two reasons — research and development, and production of formulas to help the most nutritionally vulnerable infants — are good reasons to support these companies and buy their products.  However, with the brand-name and generic formulas practically identical in nutritional quality, the price differences are indeed astounding.

Read more on infant formulas from the USDA here.

Read “Baby Formula Buying Guide” from Consumer Reports here.

Read interview with Dr. Kovatch in February’s Consultant for Pediatricians here.