Can you do a segment on the differences across formula brands (milk-based)? I was told it’s all essentially marketing; is this true? How can you tell which formulas might be worth the extra cost? How does Costco charge half the price of Similac if they are “essentially the same thing”?—Frugal mom of the year… maybe?
Formula is extremely heavily regulated in the U.S. (I’ll focus here on non-specialized, milk-based formulas; the others are also heavily regulated but have different ingredients). Nearly all formulas contain a mix of milk, lactose, oil (safflower, coconut, or soy), and whey protein. FDA regulations have strict limits on the balance of calories across macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and across vitamins and minerals. These regulations are such that the actual nutrient and ingredient content of different brands is really similar.
If you look at, say, Similac and Enfamil — two leading formula brands — their macronutrients are almost identical and their vitamins are very similar. Similac has more biotin and Enfamil has more B12, but these differences are very small. The nutrient list in Bobbie formula, which is an organic option, is virtually identical. Same goes for Kirkland Signature, the Costco brand.
There are two differences, which are going to drive a lot of the differences in price.
One is where the ingredients come from. This is not dissimilar to virtually all of the food you buy. Conventional broccoli and organic broccoli are the same in the sense of both being broccoli. But there may be reasons you prefer the latter. All pasta is made of the same basic ingredients, but you might buy more expensive versions because they’re better prepared or taste better or for some other reason. At the end of the day, this decision is similar to many decisions you make of this type.
The second difference is to your specific Costco question. And I think the answer is the same reason that Kirkland Signature Sauvignon Blanc is really not a bad bottle of wine. Costco is producing on a massive scale, not doing much marketing, and optimizing distribution in order to keep prices low.
Basically, Costco is a deal. That might have been a shorter answer to your question.