Local Vendors Fear National Pumpkin Shortage

Alachua residents search for the perfect pumpkin to take home with them for the holidays. The pumpkin patch has seen a steep increase in sales in early October, compared with last year's numbers. (Courtesy/Megan Bultemeier)
Alachua residents search for the perfect pumpkin to take home with them for the holidays. The pumpkin patch has seen a steep increase in sales in early October, compared with last year’s numbers. (Courtesy/Megan Bultemeier)

A national pumpkin shortage has caused suppliers to worry about their stock approaching the prime holidays for all things pumpkin: Halloween and Thanksgiving.

The shortage was caused by heavy rains early in the growing season, which resulted in disappointing crop yields for farmers. About 90 percent of the annual pumpkin crop is produced in Illinois, where summer rains were among the heaviest in the country.

Fortunately, the pumpkins typically purchased at local vendors for carving are not those affected by the shortage, according to a report published by CNN.

Instead, sugar pumpkins are those most at risk of selling out in the coming months. This type is used most often to make canned pumpkin and other popular pumpkin goods.

 Libby’s, a division of Nestle USA, owns about 80 percent of the market for canned pumpkin in the United States.

Roz O’Hearn, corporate and brand affairs director for Nestle USA, said that the company has done a thorough evaluation of the year’s pumpkin yield.

“We’re disappointed that the yields this year are less than we anticipated,” O’Hearn said. “We originally reported our yield could be off by as much as a third, but updated crop reports indicate yields would be reduced by half this year.”

O’Hearn said the harvest began in late August and finished the week of Oct. 5, much earlier than in a typical growing season. This resulted in a lower overall harvest of sugar pumpkins.

Gainesville residents will likely not see prices increase on pumpkins from local pumpkins patches leading into Halloween, but they could see an increase in demand and therefore possible shortages.

Megan Bultemeier, a representative from the First United Methodist Church of Alachua Pumpkin Patch, said that the national shortage did not directly affect their supply.

“We were able to get our requested number of pumpkins from our supplier,” she said.

However, Bultemeier said the church’s pumpkin patch was indirectly affected by the shortage, leading to an increase in early sales, weeks before Halloween.

“We have sold more pumpkins this year than we have at the same point in the month in years past,” Bultemeier said.

Famous for its Pumpkin Spice Lattes sold during the fall, Starbucks Coffee Company’s move to include real pumpkin in its seasonal drinks has raised some concern over possible price increases due to the crop shortage.

But Holly Shafer, a representative with Starbucks, said it has no plans to increase prices.

“Starbucks is not at all concerned about an impact to our pumpkin spice latte supply since we’ve already stocked up for this season and next,” Shafer said.

Starbucks may have started using real pumpkin versus pumpkin spice in its seasonal lattes, but only 2 percent of its pumpkin puree, used to flavor the seasonal drink, is sourced from the real thing.

“Our pumpkin puree is not sourced from the market where there’s a pumpkin harvest shortage,” Shafer added.

Many farmers across the country have resorted to purchasing pumpkins at auctions multiple times per week to meet the demands of customers. Many of these same farmers advise buying canned pumpkin for Thanksgiving as early as possible, versus buying them late in November.

O’Hearn said she advises a similar strategy, telling consumers to buy their pumpkin goods as soon as they can to avoid the rush before the holidays.

“We believe we’ll have enough pumpkin to meet the needs presented by the fall holidays,” O’Hearn said. “We’re managing our distribution across the country and to our retailers through allocation.”

But as soon as stores sell out of these pumpkin goods, they won’t be able to restock—there will simply be no more product to put on shelves, O’Hearn said.

“Once we ship the remainder of the 2015 harvest, we’ll have no Libby’s pumpkin to sell until harvest of 2016,” she said. “Then we begin all over again.”

About Erica Brown

Erica is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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