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Plenty of pumpkins this year -- with one exception

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As America reaches peak pumpkin season, foodies are letting out a sigh of relief: The 2015 gourd shortage is over.

Or is it? Consumers from Vermont to Florida are encountering shortages of Starbucks’ (SBUX) pumpkin spice lattes. While pumpkin isn’t the main ingredient of Starbucks’ fall drink, consumers were cheered last year when the company said it would start incorporating the real deal following criticism from food advocates that the latte lacked any actual pumpkin.

Demand for pumpkin products -- including pumpkin spice -- peaks in October, according to data from Square, which found that pumpkin spice lattes were the most popular pumpkin item sold in October 2015, outpacing both pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. 

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Bakers and cooks won’t have to scramble this year to find pumpkin, with canned-pumpkin producer Libby projecting that “there will be no shortage” in 2016 and into 2017, as opposed to the tight supplies after last year’s pumpkin scare. Still, that might not assuage disappointed fans of Starbucks’ PSL.

“Our small town Starbucks was out of PSL flavor since the end of August,” one consumer complained on the Starbucks Facebook page. “Haven’t restocked it. And they said they weren’t sure when they will get it in. BAD planning!!!! I’m a diehard Starbucks fan...but will be going to another coffee place this fall!”

Starbucks vowed that it has plenty of pumpkin spice to go around, although it admitted that consumers might encounter a few stores that have run out of the product.

“We have a healthy supply of pumpkin spice sauce as we’ve already secured for the upcoming season,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email. “There may be a store here or there that is out, and if that’s the case, they should get more in a day or so as they would with any product.”

Americans love pumpkin-flavored foods, but sales of the real thing have been declining since 2010. At the same time, processed foods, drinks and bakery items with pumpkin flavor have surged in popularity. Want a pumpkin beer to wash down a handful of pumpkin-spice almonds or a pumpkin-spice Pop-Tart? The beverage and food industries have you covered.

Purists who like the real thing will have no problem finding canned pumpkin on the shelves, or real pumpkins in the stores.

“This year’s crop is far better than in 2015, when we experienced heavy rain during our critical growing months early in the season,” said Jim Ackerman, agriculture manager for Libby’s canning facility. “Mother Nature is on our side in 2016, and growing conditions have been favorable.”

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