Growing global potato shortage affects fries from Japan to Kenya
There is a growing global shortage of potatoes – a real problem for a planet addicted to french fries and fries.
A number of popular items, including cooking pot and cream cheese, have faced shortages due to supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and extreme weather conditions. Potatoes are the latest to join the list, becoming unevenly available in some countries and fast food chains due to a confluence of factors.
In Japan, McDonald’s locations stopped offering orders of large and medium fries late last month after pandemic-related supply chain issues and flooding in the Port of Vancouver caused delayed potato shipments.
Days later, South Africa’s leading potato chip makers warned that potatoes were in worrying shortage after a bad frost and excessive rain led to low local yields, on top of global supply shortages.
In Kenya this month, Kentucky Fried Chicken sites removed French fries, locally known as crisps, from menus as virus-related shipping delays held up containers full of potatoes for more than a month. ‘a month.
“You like our crisps a little too much, and we’re out of them,” KFC Kenya tweeted on January 3. “Sorry !”
In the meantime, the chain has offered customers the option to swap out other menu items — chicken, rolls, soda, coleslaw and corn-based ugali — in place of fries in combo meals.
Other Kenyan fast food restaurants were able to offer the merchandise.
“We have enough fries for everyone,” Kenya’s Burger King wrote in a Jan. 4 Instagram post.
Beyond the inconveniences, the shortage has sparked some anger among Kenyans over KFC’s reliance on imported potatoes rather than local potatoes, which are in their harvest season.
KFC’s managing director for East Africa, Jacques Theunissen, told Kenya’s Business Daily that he could not easily switch to Kenyan potatoes due to global quality standards.
“All suppliers must go through global QA [quality assurance] approval process, and we can’t get around that even though we’re running out of it to make sure our food is safe for our customers to eat,” he said.
Some have called for a boycott of KFC on social media and questioned why the franchise did not seek approval from local suppliers from the start.
Kenya National Potato Council chief executive Wachira Kaguongo told local media that farmers in the country produce 62 varieties and that “with proper arrangement and planning” they could supply KFC.
Pandemic or not, potato shortages crop up from time to time due to bad weather, burns or labor disputes.
China, Russia, India and the United States are the world’s leading potato producers. But last year, American farmers had to destroy a glut of millions of potatoes after shutdowns and stay-at-home orders led to a sharp drop in demand, including from restaurants. The U.S. potato crop fell 2% in 2021, according to a November report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Japan is the largest U.S. watch market for potatoes, according to the USDA. Japan has more than 3,000 McDonald’s franchises and depends on potatoes grown in the United States and shipped by ship from North America.
McDonald’s in Japan said it was considering airlifting potatoes to meet demand until the backup in Vancouver is resolved. But after heavy snowfall in early January shipments were further delayed, the company said it would stick to its small order limit for at least a month.