Pumpkin Shortage: Para-crises still need attention

I have to admit up front that I grew up loving pumpkin pie.  It is safe to say I have nieces and nephews who are addicted.  If my mother does not make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no consoling them.  So when news broke in 2009 of a possible shortage, in my family that would be a crisis.  But for Nestle (corporation) and Libby’s (the brand) it is what we can call a para-crisis.  Para can mean like or resembling or subsidiary to.  A para-crisis resembles a crisis but is subsidiary to a true crisis.  You will not assemble the crisis management team for a para-crisis but it does demand some attention and a strategic response from the organization.  Para-crises threaten reputational assets without the potential to disrupt product and/or harm stakeholders.  The reputational threat means that the various crisis communication theories oriented towards reputational concerns play well with para-crises.

The pumpkin pie shortage is a result of two straight years of wet weather that limited the pumpkin crop.  Libby’s represented 80% to 90% of the canned pumpkin market http://www.theledger.com/article/20091119/news/911195068&tc=yahoo  That is domination of a market.  Most pie makers do use canned so there is the tie to pumpkin pies.  Here is how Libby’s  (Nestle) explained the situation:

Mother Nature has been fickle this year!

Due to poor weather conditions, the pumpkin harvest is smaller than we expected so it may be hard to find LIBBY’S Pumpkin this holiday season. The heavy rains throughout the harvest have made it nearly impossible to pick our pumpkins. That’s because tractors and other equipment are not able to move through the saturated fields.

At LIBBY’S, we’re proud of our quality and we know that you trust us to deliver the best. The longer the pumpkins sit in these muddy fields, the more likely it is the quality of the pumpkin has declined. So we’ve made the difficult decision that we will not pack any more pumpkin this year which means that through the holiday season and until next fall’s harvest, LIBBY’S pumpkin will be hard to find.

Last year’s harvest was a wet one too, so we planted more acres this year, hoping to can more pumpkin. Early in the harvest, it looked like we would have plenty of pumpkin, but Mother Nature had other plans for us. We hope she’s better to us next season, giving us a little less rain and a lot more sunshine because we are already planning to plant even more acres of pumpkins. This way everyone can enjoy as many delicious pumpkin dishes as they want!

Don’t let this news dampen your holiday spirits. If you can’t find LIBBY’S this year, we would like to suggest some delicious alternatives that offer a sweet ending to your Thanksgiving meal.

http://www.verybestbaking.com/libbys/classic/shortage.aspx  If you go to the link there is an effective video showing the fields and discussing the problems. 

Oddly, Nestle was working to prevent a shortage.  In 2008, rains hurt the crops but there was enough to get by but not much slack for 2009.  So, Nestle, who controls 85% of the pumpkin crop fields, increased planting to help offset the poor 2008 crop.  So they were thinking ahead but you cannot control the weather http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pumpkin18-2009nov18,0,5196858.story?track=rss

Of course there is a bright side for others who sell pumpkins, better sales, especially organic pumpkin farmers.  But most customers need the can rather than fresh pumpkins so the shortage possibility exists.  Many grocery chains had signs warning customers pumpkin filing might be hard to find.  Reports seem to indicate that Thanksgiving was oaky but now the fears turn to Christmas.  Will there be enough for the second feast of the holidays?  www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-talk-pumpkin-shortage-folonov25,0,7049581.story

Questions to Consider

  1.  If we consider this a crisis, what type of crisis would it be?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  2. What value is there in Libby talking about how it was prepared to cover the problems of 2008 by increasing its planting in 2009?
  3. What crisis response strategies were Libby’s using?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  4. How effective would you say Libby’s para-crisis response was?  What is the rationale for your judgment?
  5. Does this para-crisis create any need for instructing and/or adjusting information?
  6. What else could Libby’s have done to help manage this para-crisis?
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