Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Pumpkins Return
Bad weather led to a pumpkin shortage last year for Nestle, which sells nearly all the canned pumpkin in the U.S. under its Libby's brand. But the company says there should be enough to go around this year. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup lovers who couldn't find the main ingredient for their favorite recipe since last year's canned pumpkin shortage, take heart.

A new supply of canned pumpkin is on store shelves and the currently limited supply should increase as the pumpkin harvest continues and the product is packed and distributed.

Scott Bissonnette, head of purchasing for the seven Walt's Food stores, said last year's pumpkin supply disappeared long ago, but newly packed pumpkin began arriving in stores in the past two weeks.

"All stocks were gone from last year," he said. "There was no pumpkin after the first of the year. None. Zero. There was no retail canned pumpkin available. We've had a lot of customers asking for it, especially after Labor Day hits and the weather start to get cooler."

Distributors currently are limiting stores' pumpkin allocations, but that should change soon, Bissonnette said.

"We can't get enough to meet our needs yet because everyone's out of it and our supplier isn't letting us buy what we want to buy so they can supply all their stores," he said. "More than likely, there will be enough. The crop was good and it's not done being packed."

Walt's is supplied by Central Grocers Inc., which is a member-owned wholesaler and supplier to about 400 independent grocery store locations in the Midwest, including Strack & Van Til, and WiseWay stores.

Although stores haven't received their full allocation of pumpkin, this year's supply should eventually meet demand, said Roz O'Hearn, spokeswoman for Nestle. Nestle is the parent company of Libby's Pumpkin, which supplies nearly 85 percent of the country‘s canned pumpkin and is the product's only national distributor.

"Last year we shipped it all by Thanksgiving and there was no inventory for this season," O'Hearn said Monday. "We planted more acreage this year."

Although she wouldn't estimate how many acres the company planted in addition to the 5,000 to 6,000 acres it normally cultivates in Morton, Ill., near Peoria, O‘Hearn said the harvest is about one-third completed.

"We planted earlier and we're having an earlier harvest," O'Hearn said. "The seed goes in the ground in a sequenced basis so we're harvesting every day."

There is a favorable weather pattern in place for the rest of the harvest, she said.

"Most stores got the product last week and there will be successive shipments as we have more picking and packing to complete," O'Hearn said. "The long-range forecast is good."

The 2009 canned pumpkin shortage occurred after 13 days of heavy rain during the height of picking season. The rain rendered Libby's pumpkin fields so muddy that tractors were unable to get the crop out of the field before it was ruined, O'Hearn said.

A can of pumpkin was so much in demand that it was listed on eBay recently for 10 times its normal price. As stocks returned to store shelves, consumers should see the 2010 retail price return to normal.

"The price per case is comparable to previous years," Bissonnette said.

According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, 95 percent of the U.S. pumpkin crop intended for processing is grown in Illinois. The U.S. canned pumpkin market is worth $141 million annually, with about 80 percent of sales coming during the last three months of the year, according to research group IBIS World.