INCA Background Memo – Infant Formula and WIC

Infant Formula and WIC Backgrounder

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is one of the largest food assistance programs in the U.S.  The program is designed to help meet the specific targeted nutrition needs  of low-income women, infants and children five years of age who are at nutritional risk.

WIC is different from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps’), which aims to reduce hunger in the general population by providing cash equivalent vouchers to low income individuals that can be used directly to purchase grocery items.

The WIC program provides specific food packages which include nutritious foods carefully selected to improve participants’ food and nutrient intake and to promote improved health.  These food packages are provided at no cost to the participant.  About one-half of all infants in the U.S. are enrolled in the WIC program.

The WIC food packages contain an assortment of nutritionally-dense foods, including fruits and vegetables, grains, milk and legumes.  Food packages for non-exclusively breastfed infants include infant formula.  The WIC program credits the provision of iron-fortified infant formula as the primary reason iron-deficiency anemia is no longer a problem in the U.S. today.

Infancy is a critical time for brain growth and infant development and poor nutrition can have lasting negative effects. Infant formula manufacturers support the aims of the WIC program to help ensure U.S. infants who are not breastfed or fully breastfed are adequately nourished.

U.S. law requires that infant formula manufacturers who wish to participate in WIC bid a discount, or “rebate,” back to the WIC program for the exclusive contract to provide infant formula in a particular State (or group of States). No other foods provided in the program are required by law to bid a rebate.

Three of four Infant Nutrition Council of America* (INCA) member companies are responsible for all WIC infant formula contracts.

  • Three infant formula companies contribute approximately $1.88 billion annually in rebates, which offset the costs of the program to the federal government and taxpayers.
  • Infant formula rebates provide funding for approximately 25% of the WIC program’s total annual cost.
  • Infant formula rebates provide funding for approximately 40% of the WIC program’s total food cost.


* The Infant Nutrition Council of America is an association of manufacturers and marketers of formulated nutrition products, e.g., infant formulas and adult nutritionals, whose members are based predominantly in North America.  INCA members are Abbott Nutrition, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestlé Infant Nutrition and Perrigo Nutritionals.

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