Nestle: Rain may put pumpkin pie in peril

Friday, November 20, 2009
Pumpkin farmer John Ackerman walks through a neighbor's waterlogged pumpkin field Tuesday while discussing the difficulties of this year's harvest. (LESLIE RENKEN ~ The Journal Star)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The holidays may not be so sweet this year.

Nestle -- which sells nearly all the canned pumpkin in the U.S. -- says poor weather hurt its harvest, creating a potential shortage of its Libby's pumpkin pie products through the holidays.

In a statement to customers this week, Nestle said heavy rains made it nearly impossible to pick its pumpkins during this year's harvest.

The longer the pumpkins sit in the muddy fields, the more they deteriorate. As a result, Nestle said this week that it would not pack any more pumpkins this year, which means it may be hard to find its canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling product until next year's harvest.

"Mother nature had other plans for us," the company said in an open apology to customers online.

Nestle is the largest national brand for canned pumpkin products, with 80 to 90 percent of the market, the company said.

It plants a special strain of pumpkin at a farm in Morton, Ill., which provides nearly all its products. If you turned all the pumpkins on its farm to pie, it would total 90 million pies, Nestle spokeswoman Roz O'Hearn said.

The company had a wet harvest last year, too, which meant it didn't have a surplus to carry over into this year and led to spotty shortages in late summer and early fall. The harvest started in August and it began getting products on its shelves soon after, but it won't be able to meet its normal demand.

Nestle said it has seen the popularity of pumpkin grow recently as more people have become aware of its health benefits, but Thanksgiving is the company's peak season.

Pie makers can still use fresh pumpkin or other brands.

Trader Joe's said it has its store brand pumpkin in stock but said it couldn't predict what would happen to supplies in the future.

Whole Foods Market Inc. said that while it is aware of lower pumpkin yields in parts of the country, the company was able to get enough pumpkin for its store brand product and actually shipped more product to stores this year than ever before.

Farmers Market Organic, the country's largest provider of organic canned pumpkin, said it didn't experience the same issues with fungus and mold at its farm that big growers in the Midwest suffered this year and last.

And the company, based in Corvallis, Ore., said it increased its capacity and has shipped millions more cans of its product this year.

"Pumpkin pie is something people just won't do without, it's pretty sacred," said Tracy Miedema, national sales and marketing manager for Farmers Market. "They are willing to switch out of a previous brand but they aren't willing to switch out of pumpkin pie."

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