But here’s what’s causing the delay and those empty store shelves.

By Kelsey Ogletree
October 16, 2020

There’s been a lot of buzz lately around a reported shortage of canned pumpkin. But as it turns out, that’s not really the case.

It’s true that an aluminum can shortage amidst the pandemic is causing problems for industries like craft beer. Over the past few months, breweries have been buying up aluminum cans for beer that would normally be stored in kegs, and people are also stocking up on more canned beverages while at home, leading to greater demand than supply.

This shortage has nothing to do with why you’re having trouble finding canned pumpkin in grocery stores lately, though. First of all, most cans used for food are primarily made of steel, with a thin layer of tin or aluminum over the top, says Raghela Scavuzzo, associate director of food systems development at Illinois Farm Bureau. “Since [cans of pumpkin puree] are not prominently aluminum and there are alternative options to can variety, we are not currently aware of the aluminum shortage being a problem at this time,” she adds.

The real reason behind empty shelves where the trusted Libby’s should be? A later-than-usual pumpkin harvest. Overall, the pumpkin season is looking to be a “very normal” production year, says Scavuzzo. The state of Illinois, where she is based, harvests the largest share of pumpkin acreage of any in the U.S. (about 17,000 acres), with nearly 80 percent of pumpkin acres devoted to pie filling or other processing uses, according to the USDA.

Illinois pumpkin farmers experienced a later planting season this year due to early season rains, leading to a slightly later harvest—which Scavuzzo says is causing the actual absence of cans you’re experiencing on shelves. She assures that plenty of canned pumpkin is on its way to stores, however, and that we should all be seeing it again soon in time to squeeze in all the fall baking recipes.

Earlier this month, Libby’s posted on Instagram a similar message, stating that this season’s pumpkin would be arriving on shelves by mid-October or so, just a bit later than usual.

If you have to wait a few more days or weeks to find canned pumpkin, you can always do it the old-fashioned way and make your own pumpkin puree from scratch. Head to a local pumpkin patch and ask for sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins, says Scavuzzo—many farms sell a large variety of pumpkin types and should be able to help you pick out the best one for making puree. Libby’s uses a type of “processing pumpkin” variety called Dickenson (which looks more like a smooth butternut squash) that some patches may have, as well.

Ultimately, don’t worry: “There is plenty of pumpkin to go around,” adds Scavuzzo. And try not to hoard—only stock up on canned pumpkin you need to leave plenty for other eager bakers, too.