Gasp! No pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving?

Poor growing season limits supply of canned ingredient

November 21, 2009|By Susan Reimer

If you've been dreaming of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, wake up and smell the sweet potatoes. Or the pecans.

Poor weather during the growing season and twice the normal rain during the harvest has resulted in a shortage of canned pumpkin on grocery store shelves this holiday season, warn the producers of Libby's, one of the best-known names in pumpkin.

"Our calculations indicate that we may deplete our inventory of canned Libby's pumpkin as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday," said Paul Bakus, vice president and general manager for Nestle Baking, Libby's parent company. "That's why we wanted to alert bakers to the anticipated shortage."

"If pumpkin is important to your Thanksgiving traditions and if you see pumpkin on the grocery shelves this week, you should buy it," said Roz O'Hearn, of Nestle. "Because we are going to run out of pumpkin next week."

Meanwhile, Giant, Safeway and Wegmans stores in Baltimore confirmed that they didn't get all of the canned pumpkin they asked for but expect to have enough for customers who are baking for Thanksgiving.

"We have it on our shelves," said Kim Brown, vice president of public affairs and community relations for Giant. "The quantities vary by store, but we have the ability to move the product around should customer demand warrant that."

It was clear as early as August that this pumpkin growing season was not going to be a good one. Spring rains delayed the start of the season. Cloudy days in mid-season kept the bees, which require sun for navigation, from pollinating the blossoms, and drought in August kept the pumpkins small in many areas of the country, including parts of Maryland.

"This year, heavy rains saturated the pumpkin fields," Libby's said in a news release, "making it nearly impossible for tractors and other equipment to operate."

Libby's grows almost all its pumpkins on 5,000 acres near Morton, Ill. O'Hearn said company managers there report the worst pumpkin harvest in 35 years. "Trucks are buried in the fields up to their axles," she said.

The quality of the pumpkins is declining so rapidly that the company has decided to plow the harvest under once the fields dry, enriching the soil for next season.

"We hope Mother Nature is nicer to us next year," said Bakus, who apologized in a news release and asked customers to understand.

Meanwhile, Vinson Bankoski, director of dining services at Charlestown retirement community, who expects to make 150 pumpkin pies for his 2,000 diners next Thursday, reported no problem getting the enormous cans of pumpkin he needs. "We are not as affected as retail," he said, because their product is supplied through different channels.

Giant anticipated a shortage, said Brown, and prepared by contracting for two organic brands. Safeway spokesman Greg Ten Eck said the stores have plenty of 10-ounce cans. "But the 29-ouncers may be a problem."

Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natalie said that there was a shortage of pumpkin from Libby's this year, but the stores remain stocked with that and other brands.

"We expect to have pumpkin, be it Libby's, Wegmans, or organic, until at least the end of the year," she said. "Historically, canned pumpkin sales tail off considerably after Thanksgiving."

Not for Michelle Brown, 31, of Upperco, who likes to eat pumpkin just about every day. "All that fiber and vitamin A. Pumpkin is really good for your body."

Hearing of a shortage that will last until next year's pumpkin harvest, she sounded dismayed. "Oh, I hope not."

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