El Nino is affecting Center Store on everything from soup to nuts.
While most of the attention has been focused on the damage to crops and property in the wake of El Nino-induced flooding, hurricanes, blizzards and other weather extremes, Center Store, including frozen and canned vegetables, is also being affected.
Retailers may be faced with higher prices this summer as a result.
Manufacturers told SN the weather has delayed plantings of several key crops, forced processors to look elsewhere for ingredients, and is depleting stockpiled items, such as potatoes for potato chips.
Gene Herr, manager of potato procurement for Herr Foods, Nottingham, Pa., said the effects of heavy El Nino rains on the East Coast, particularly in Florida, could hurt the quality and number of potatoes harvested from the spring crop. A shortage not only could affect Herr's production as it comes into the busy summer months, but also will have an impact on many of its competitors, as northern Florida supplies the majority of the industry from late April to early June.
"The weather the next few weeks will determine how the industry will fare in May and June," said Herr.
Richard Chase, a member of the Potato Technology Committee of the Snack Food Association, Alexandria, Va., and a professor at Michigan State University, East Lansing, said most potatoes now being used in potato-chip production are coming out of storage from last fall's harvest.
Robert M. Longendyke, director of public relations at Pillsbury Co., Minneapolis, said since Pillsbury uses dehydrated potatoes in its Hungry Man line of potato dishes, it is not dependent on the current potato harvest.
However, the company is concerned about its Green Giant brand of vegetables because its asparagus and spinach crops are from California. Longendyke said, however, Green Giant supplies are currently fine.
Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., has seen some delayed plantings of tomatoes and some minor disruptions in celery and broccoli, but for the most part has not had product shortages, said Mary Kate McDonald, spokeswoman.
Byron Johnson, senior vice president of operations at Dean Foods Vegetable Co., Green Bay, Wis., the manufacturer of Birds Eye, Veg-All and several other leading Center Store brands, said El Nino has caused a "considerable impact" on its business going back to mid-December, when a severe freeze hit the Southwest.
"We are now eating into our excess inventories of broccoli and other crops from Mexico," he said.
Planting delays are one of its biggest problems on the West Coast. "We expect to see major problems with broccoli and spinach," Johnson added.
El Nino has ripped the heart out of the nation's artichoke industry, according to Valerie L. Woerner, general manager of Artichoke Industries, Castroville, Calif., the producer of the Cara Mia brand of processed artichokes and only major U.S. artichoke canner.
"Artichokes will be in very short supply this year," she said. "Many of the fields are completely flooded.
Artichokes like 13 to 16 inches of rain all year and we are already at 34 inches," she said.
A worldwide artichoke shortage is expected because Spain has also had poor weather, as did Mexico and Chile, the other major growing regions. Chile also had an earthquake in the fall.
El Nino-driven rains have even dampened the spirits of the busy bees that pollinate California's almond, peach, apricot and other trees.
Gene Grabowski, vice president for communications at the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, said it's too early for GMA members to assess what effect the weather will have.
El Nino has even been kind to some Center Store manufacturers.
"Being able to manufacture product all winter without a weather-related shutdown has had a positive effect on our sales," said Rodney Stauffer, vice president of sales and marketing at Stauffer Biscuit Co., York, Pa., a leading producer of animal crackers. "Locally, our retailers have not had to close either, so our product continues to move off the shelves."