Monday, August 29, 2016

Why are Canned Pumpkins a Seasonal Food?

This became my question of the week after I visited or phoned Aldi, Walmart, Jewel Osco, Trader Joes and Meijer--only to find none of them have canned pumpkins right now. In fact they all told me that they only stock this product "seasonally". 

What exactly is the point of super-heating a vegetable and sealing it in a tin, if not to have it available year round?

Somehow, in this otherwise convenience-oriented nation, canned pumpkins are "seasonal". And the season always sucks.  This is the time of year when the media always announces that pumpkins didn't pumpk very well this year because of drought (2014) or too much rain (2015). Or whatever non-perfect precipitation event is happening this year, that has already caused a minor pumpkin beer shortage panic.

The peak of demand for pumpkins is in the fall and winter, so this is when pumpkin (in all its forms) is heavily stocked.  However in the can their shelf life is in the range, conservatively, of one to two years.  So canned pumpkins are just as amenable to stocking year round as any other vegetable or pie filling.

I have trouble imagining that the demand for the constantly available canned sweet potatoes or key lime pie goop greatly outstrips that for pumpkin, that low cal butter substitute and savior of digestion-ally distressed canines everywhere. Therefore the only real explanation for the seasonally stocking of pumpkin seems to be tradition... and perhaps economics.

The boom and bust seasonal stocking of canned pumpkin sends us racing to the stores, stocking up extras in our own pantries, and saving the supermarkets the trouble of keeping their own warehouses supplied. And pumpkins are both a poorer performing crop and one predominantly grown in the US--so warehousing for a constant supply would be more challenging than for other fruits and vegetables.

This "seasonal" stocking of potentially constant cans is made possible because instead of feeling let down, we as customers feel happy to take part in a fall foraging ritual where the discovery of an orange-labelled tin is almost as exciting as spying the first daffodil in spring. And a lot tastier.

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