PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Pumpkin lovers can relax: A nearly yearlong shortage of the canned stuff is over.
That means an end to the hoarding, rationing and even pumpkin profiteering that have been going on since heavy rain ruined last year's harvest and caused a shortfall. But the country's top producer says this year's crop is healthy and cans are arriving in stores.
"I was a little panicked," Jamie Lothridge of Toledo, Ohio, said about the prospect of a another season low on pumpkin. The avid baker bought more than 25 cans last fall and was down to her final few this month when she called Libby's to make sure it would be back.
Nestle, which sells about 85 percent of the canned pumpkin in the U.S. under its Libby's brand, said customer inquiries have grown five-fold 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.