Halloween’s fictional beasties are nothing compared with the horrors of the global food waste and climate challenges growers and fmcg contend with almost daily.

The weather of the past year has shown the true extent of the climate crisis is not a distant nightmare, but very much a present reality. In 2022, growers faced droughts and record-breaking high temperatures. In 2023, they battled the opposite problem: low temperatures and high rainfall.

This unpredictable weather has had a tangible impact on a variety of UK-grown products including the Halloween staple of pumpkins.

The wet UK summer has led to bigger pumpkins arriving earlier than normal, with some experts warning weeks ago that many would not last until the day itself. Business Waste, a waste management company, warned 18,000 tonnes of pumpkins get thrown away in a normal year, meaning even a 1% increase in size could lead to hundreds of tonnes of extra waste. This, plus the fact 60% of consumers don’t eat the pumpkins they buy, means 2023 will likely be a big year for food waste.

Pumpkin production decisions made long before Halloween

One company suggested AI could help optimise retailers’ supply chains and merchandising processes, reducing waste across peak seasons.

According to Svante Göthe, head of sustainability at Relex, “with the help of AI, retailers can get highly accurate demand forecasts by automatically capturing the impact of hundreds of demand drivers. Businesses have visibility into future demand, allowing for improved planning processes across merchandising, supply chain, and operations, leading to reduced waste.”

However, he does acknowledge it is not as simple a process with pumpkins, which take roughly 90–120 days to grow, “meaning decisions on how many to produce must happen months before Halloween” when often the weather and how they will perform is less clear.

This is a common problem in the fresh produce industry, and is becoming more frequent as growers battle increasingly unpredictable weather.

Flooding expected to cause supply challenges

Storm Babet is the latest of these issues, with flooding from the major weather event expected to cause supply challenges well into the new year, leaving “the back end of the broccoli season just completely underwater”, and other overwintered crops including carrots and brassicas also affected, according to Jack Ward, CEO of the British Growers Association.

The booms and busts of fruit & veg are to be expected. But while a boom in other fruit & veg lines might lead to more consumption, for pumpkins it just leads to more waste.

While there are tools that can help manage the flood of pumpkins to the market and support retailers with managing supply, fundamentally our attitude to pumpkins needs to change.

As food supply chains become more uncertain, there is a need to make the most of every edible product produced. Instead of seeing pumpkins as accessories, there should be a collective rethink about attitudes to the autumn staple – perhaps it’s even time to unmask the gourd as the vegetable it is and encourage consumers to use it as such.