Nestle, which sells about 85 percent of the canned pumpkin in the U.S. under its Libby's brand, said customer inquiries have grown fivefold since last fall, when it warned it might not have enough to get through the holidays.
The problem was compounded by pumpkin's growing popularity in American kitchens. Its richness in nutrients has given it a reputation as a "super-food," and people use it year-round in bread, muffins and rolls. Some even feed it to their dogs and cats as a digestive aid.
To most, though, it means one thing. "The color, smell and taste of pumpkin equals fall," Lothridge said.
The canned pumpkin market is worth $141 million in the U.S., but about 80 percent of those sales come in the last three months of the year, according to research group IBIS World.
Normally, Nestle's fall harvest yields enough pumpkin to last until the next year. But its farm in Morton, Ill. the source of nearly all its pumpkins received about double the typical rainfall last year. Tractors sat mired in muck and much of the crop rotted in the fields.
Canned pumpkin was gone from the shelves as early as Thanksgiving in some places. On eBay, cans of pumpkin went for $6 or $7 apiece, several times the normal price, as supplies dwindled. Some organic competitors increased shipments to stores. Grocers fielded inquiries from disappointed shoppers. At least one grocery chain, Publix, has since rolled out its own store brand to help meet demand.
Nestle is raising its suggested retail price by 20 cents to $1.79 for a 15-ounce can. The company said the 12 percent increase is needed to cover higher costs.
Nestle said it planted extra and planted early this year. The harvest is one-third done.
Pumpkin picture • A number of companies sell canned pumpkin, and there are some store brands, too. But Libby's sells about 85 percent of the canned pumpkin in the U.S.
What happened • Nestle gets nearly all of its pumpkin from one farm in Illinois. Last year, the area got twice the amount of rainfall as normal ruining some of the crop. Nestle, which sells under its Libby's brand, warned people in the fall about the shortage.
The outlook • Libby's says it is about one-third done with the harvest and weather is cooperating, so there should be adequate supply to last until next year's harvest.