The Great Canned Pumpkin Shortage of 2009: A Lame Marketing Strategy?

wall-of-pumpkin

Photograph by Married ...with dinner.

In a possible attempt to goose sales, Libby's (owned by Nestlé S.A., the multinational packaged foods company) seeded fear before Thanksgiving by warning everyone that it might not have enough canned pumpkin to satisfy demand, blaming pumpkin scarcity on things like "soggy fields" and "fungus." Of course all the news outlets (including the Associated Press) and blogs couldn't help themselves in parroting the news (ed note: we did too but were suspicious). Even Whole Foods exploited the news by sending out a press release touting that they had "plenty of our Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value™ canned 100% pumpkin in stock."

As seen in the above photo, taken the day after Thanksgiving in Andronico's Market in San Francisco, CA (and part of a much larger display!) — and from personal random supermarket research in Brooklyn the weekend following Thanksgiving — it's possible that the "warning" of a "shortage" was just a deceptive marketing ploy to generate buzz and extra sales. Did anyone have a hard time finding canned pumpkin?

Update: The Big Money affirms that there is indeed a pumpkin shortage. It's still unclear as to why canned pumpkin was readily available in some cities and completely sold out in others.

—Raphael Brion

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24 Comments

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  1. I knew it was a farse when my local store had a huge display a week before Thanksgiving and there was no other brand to be found BUT Libby's.

    Jessica

  2. Cindy

    Some of the large grocery stores I went to before Thanksgiving did run out of Libby's canned pumpkin. They had other brands though.

  3. I had a commenter overseas say that there was no canned pumpkin available in the American stores.

  4. Actually, I did have problems finding canned pumpkin two days before Thanksgiving.
    (I got a last minute request to bring a pumpkin pie to the turkey day feast.)

    I struck out at Giant Eagle and Acme in the Akron, Ohio area. I had to go to our local organic/health food store (Mustard Seed Market) to find it, where I bought two of the last three cans.

  5. Amy

    They ran out in my town a few days before Thanksgiving. Thankfully, I just randomly picked up a can on a shopping trip so I had some pumpkin for thxgiving

  6. Adam Burke

    Hi. I did have trouble finding canned pumpkin, starting early in Nov. You see, my wife and I feed pumpkin to our cats (don't ask!) and we had, for one week early in Nov, a hard time finding any canned pumpkin. Then again we had more trouble right before T-giving [which is almost to be expected].

    Anyway, things seem back to normal. I guess time will tell.

    [Report from somewhere in the midwest]

  7. Lisa

    I bought the last two cans at my local Waitrose on Thanksgiving day! I felt kind of bad because as it turned out, I only needed one...

  8. Angela

    I looked for WEEKS in October and my local store had a sign up saying there was a "shortage" - very annoying. Then they had it in stock in November... interesting to see that it was blown completely out of proportion!

  9. Gregg

    We spent the holiday on a roadtrip through Illinois and Missouri; several stores we visited over the course of the week were completely sold out of Libby's pumpkin and a few were out of all canned pumpkin.

    In an era of targeted distribution, it is superhard to make a generalization (like the one implied by the original poster) based on a single, specific experience. Extra cases or even pallet loads of Libby's canned pumpkin sitting in stores in California cannot be used to judge the availability of that item throughout the country as a whole.

  10. Lisa

    I was stranded on the gulf coast of Florida and the local Publix was out of canned pumpkin the entire week I was there; I ended up going an hour north to Ft. Myers to grab a few cans from the Whole Foods.

    I'm guessing the shortage was regional.

  11. JR

    I had a clerk at a Giant Eagle in Columbus, OH tell me that they were out of pumpkin due to a national shortage, but then I went over to a Meijers, less that 1/4 mile away, and they had full shelves of Libby's.

  12. mary

    in chicago, i found pumpkin everytime i went to the store. even bought 2 "just in case" cans, even though i had no intentions of using them.

  13. yeah, uh-huh.

    maybe some of the shortages experienced were due to canned pumpkin stock piling. maybe there are pumpkin-panicked families in akron sitting on enough cans to get them through the next century. maybe we should conduct random canned pumpkin searches, just to be sure. um. i made my pumpkin pie from a pumpkin. no problems there.

  14. Michaela

    FWIW, I had trouble finding Libby's pumpkin at Safeway and PW before Libby's publicized the shortage (there was a big empty shelf space at PW for weeks in late October/early November).

    After that I found a huge display of it at Target a few weeks before Thanksgiving and picked up four cans.

  15. AndiM

    I can say that weather in Central Illinois (where most of Libby's crop is grown) has been detrimental to the pumpkin crop this year. Our CSA (community sustained ag) share had few pumpkins this year and those were small and prone to early rot--I'd imagine the big growers had similar problems. If other pumpkin manufacturers grow in other regions of the country, it's likely their product wouldn't be impacted.

    From what I've read, the shortage isn't really about this fall, but about early in the fall next year. Libby's supply may not hold out until next year's harvest. No biggie--carrots, squash and sweet potatoes can all be cooked, pureed and used interchangeably.

  16. Sue B

    We live in the midwest and farms around us had a terrible time getting crops out of the fields this year due to the rainy fall. I know that the corn had a very high moisture content which was causing problems. The other thing that can come into play when the fields are wet is an inability to get trucks into the fields in order to harvest. So, the story from Libby sounds very plausible.

    • Rachel

      I agree with you. I'm in Tennessee, and we've had a really wet fall, too. We went by the farm where we usually get our Jack O' Lantern pumpkin, and this year it took us at least ten minutes to find a pumpkin that wasn't molding and/or already rotten. Out in the fields there were tons of pumpkins that were rotting on the vine. Oh by the way: I've been by about every grocery store and Mall Wart around here, and there's not a can of pumpkin to be found.

  17. Actually, my Ralph's did NOT have any canned pumpkin puree on Thanksgiving..... Not ONE can, so I decided to buy 3 baking pumpkins & make a puree from scratch. Whether it was a farce or sales ploy, it didn't matter because my desserts came out MUCH better having been made entirely from scratch. YAY!

  18. Nate

    In northern IL, I saw pumpkins all over the farmers markets from late summer on. I stopped in a supermarket the night before Thanksgiving and one of the cashiers was telling a customer that the "shortage" was just garbage.

  19. Isn't it butternut squash in the can sometimes? My farmer seemed to have few problems delivering squash and pumpkin every week to my CSA. He is located in Western PA. He did have tomato problems earlier in the season.

  20. Sharon

    I live in the suburbs of Chicago. For several weeks prior to Tday I know people that had trouble finding it. It was hit or miss and a the stores and you were lucky if you went to the store shortly after they got a shipment. Now several stores in the area have posted signs saying they are out and they don't know how long until they will get more.

    The shortage is very real. If you look at some of the products available on shelves, it isn't 100% pumpkin.

  21. Sarah

    I live in a Chicago suburb as well. I didn't know about the shortage but went grocery shopping today (Dec. 4th) and wanted to buy some canned pumpkin. There is none at Dominicks and they tell me they don't know if they'll get any until next season. I sent out a text S.O.S. to friends to look while they're grocery shopping, so far two of them have said Costco, and the Dominicks and Jewel by them are all out too. I will have to check smaller stores or specialty stores, or just bake something other than pumpkin bread!

  22. I had to get pumkin from my daughter-in-law. None to be found when I got back from FL. Plenty of it in FL but none in WNY.

  23. Laura

    I didn't make pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving, but I make pumpkin muffins on a regular basis, and I've notice local stores in the Phoenix area have been completely out of pumpkin for months. I looked again today, and there wasn't a can t be found. I guess the shortage was not just hype.

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