Big stores struggle to meet demand for wood pellets

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LEWISTON — A retail shortage of wood fuel pellets locally has less to do with a dwindling supply and more to do with a cold winter.

Catherine Woodling, spokeswoman for The Home Depot, confirmed that her stores are having a difficult time keeping their shelves stocked with pellets for wood-burning stoves.

“We are working with our vendors to ship wood pellets to Maine,” Woodling said. “We are replenishing the supply regularly and as quickly as possible.”

Bill Bell, executive director of the Maine Pellet Fuel Association, said supply is not the issue. His group is a trade association for Maine-based wood stove makers, pellet manufacturers and retailers.

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“What we understand, the regional big-box stores underordered,” Bell said. “They placed theirs back at the end of the summer based on what was sold last year and maybe the year before.”

The problem is that Maine’s past two winters were warmer than average, which means the pellets were less in demand.

“Those big regional stores hate to have stock on their shelves left over,” he said. “So they didn’t order as much for this year.”

Bell said specialty retailers and companies specializing in heating haven’t had a problem.

“A person who owns a stove shop knows we had a warm winter last year and the year before — but this is still Maine,” Bell said. “They have a better sense of what an average Maine winter looks like.”

He said small, specialty retailers also have a better sense of how demand for wood pellets is growing.

“A company that sells wood stoves and pellet systems knows just how many more customers it has this year than last,” Bell said.

Mike Rogers, manager of the Paris Farmers Union on Main Street in Lewiston said his store foresaw a cold winter and stocked up accordingly. As of Tuesday afternoon, the store had 11 tons of wood pellets, in different varieties.

“We usually have six or seven varieties for sale,” Rogers said. “Right now, I’ll go through spells where we don’t have one kind, but we have another. And when we get that one in, we run out of another. But we have been able to keep it on hand.”

Tim Heutz of Lewiston’s Heutz Premium Pellet Systems said his company had plenty in stock. The company delivers pellets to addresses all over central Maine.

“I have no shortage whatsoever,” he said. “It’s not a shortage of pellets; it’s all a matter of planning.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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