Great (canned) pumpkin supply expected

Heavy rains in the Midwest dented the pumpkin harvest last year, causing many pie lovers to hoard or ration the canned holiday staple as the supply started to run out around Thanksgiving.

Food giant Nestle, which sells about 85% of the nation's canned pumpkin pie filling under its Libby's brand, said that wouldn't be a problem this year.

"We're in much better shape than this time last year," Nestle spokeswoman Roz O'Hearn said. "We're more than one-third of the way through harvest and not experiencing the heavy, drenching rains" that damaged last year's crop.

Nestle planted extra this year and did it early, just in case of another rainy season, O'Hearn said.

Last year the soggy ground made harvesting impossible, cutting supply by about one-third, which equals about 35 million pies. At the time, Nestle said it wasn't expecting Libby's canned pumpkin back on shelves until this month.

The company began supplying canned pumpkin to many grocers about a week ago. Still, the 2009 shortage has spooked consumers. Pumpkin-related inquires to Nestle's website and consumer hot line have been up fivefold, O'Hearn said.

"There's been a lot of anticipation from folks who like pumpkin," she said.

Libby's uses the Select Dickinson pumpkin. It is smaller, squatter, meatier, heavier and sweeter than the typical Halloween pumpkin.

eyork@tribune.com

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