Forget things that go bump in the night - this Halloween, retailers could face a real nightmare: a massive pumpkin shortage, with early signs suggesting wet weather could squash the hopes of thousands of British shoppers in the run-up to Halloween.
An estimated 10m pumpkins are grown in the UK every year. And Sainsbury’s said it expects customers to buy almost 1.5 million pumpkins, with just over one million likely to be sold in the week running up to Halloween.
But seeds of doubt about the quality of this year's pumpkin crop were planted in September, when higher-than-average rainfall hit some parts of the UK.
Jon Barfoot, commercial director of fruit and vegetable supplier Barfoots, told City A.M. the increase in wet weather had stunted production and increased rotting.
“We are now seeing a lot of field-rots coming through the grading process, meaning a reduced yield."
"Pumpkins are like sponges, filling up with water and then sitting around on damp soil – a recipe for rotting. And nobody wants a rotting pumpkin."
Reduced crops and rotten fruits are only part of the problem. Making sure supplies of pumpkins meets supermarkets' increasingly particular demands is all-important.
And as Barfoot explains, this is not always easy. "Demand is expected to be strong. On paper, there are always enough pumpkins. But weather plays a massive role in deciding how much of the crop actually makes it through to the shops."
Pumpkins began selling out early last year, when rain caused wholesalers to run out of the seasonal squash.
Read more: Pumpkin shortage threatens to ruin Halloween
With this in mind, retailers are getting organised and filling up inventories early to avoid disappointment. "There are no prizes at Halloween for waiting until the last minute to sell pumpkins. After 31 October they are valueless,” Mr Barfoot said.
The pumpkin market has grown in recent years as Brits embrace an American-style Halloween. Lyburn Farm in Wiltshire has carved out a niche in organic crops. Sales director Jono Smales estimates that his farm will sell 70,000 pumpkins this year.
But in the US, rates of pumpkin production are already looking patchy. Nestle-owned Libby’s Pumpkin, which supplies over 85 per cent of the world’s canned pumpkins, anticipates its yields will be reduced by half. The problem is believed to stem from an unusually rainy growing season.
However the picture was better in the South of England. Barry Loudhrey, director of Over Farm Market in Gloucester, said growing conditions had been good and his farm hoped to sell 15,000 pumpkins before Halloween. “This year we have had bigger pumpkins than ever. Mother Nature has obviously decided to give us a helping hand.”
But he added that he expected an increase in demand on last year, with the majority coming from the supermarkets.