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Potato Shortages: McDonald’s Limits Sale of French Fries in Japan

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: December 28, 2021
McDonalds has put restrictions on the sale of french fries in Japan due to potato shortage.
McDonalds has put restrictions on the sale of french fries in Japan due to potato shortage. (Image: Pexels via Pixabay)

Fast-food chain McDonald’s will now begin rationing French fries at all outlets in Japan due to a shortage of potato imports. It will affect 2900 stores in Japan and will be in effect between Dec. 25 and 30.

In a statement, McDonald’s blamed “large-scale flooding” near the Port of Vancouver in Canada and the COVID-19-triggered global supply crunch for delays in the supply of potatoes.

The restriction on the sale of French fries comes amidst the festive Christmas and New Year holidays. During this period, many Japanese eat out in large numbers at outlets like McDonald’s and KFC. The company is also securing potatoes through alternate measures, such as air freight. However, the fast-food chain admitted that ensuring “stable procurement” was proving to be a challenge.

“McDonald’s Japan will temporarily limit sales of Medium- and Large-sized French Fries as a proactive measure to ensure customers can continue to enjoy McDonald’s French Fries… Customers will still be able to order Small-sized French Fries at all of our restaurants. To date, there have been no breaks in supply,” the company told the BBC.

In mid-November, the Canadian province of British Columbia was hammered by storms that caused damage to rail lines and roads around Vancouver. This cut off Vancouver from the rest of the province for several days, which disrupted port activities. The Vancouver port is the third-largest in North America. Potatoes from the United States account for roughly 70 percent of Japan’s overall potato imports.

“Whether from Idaho or Washington, every French fry a Tokyo resident pops in their mouth has spent weeks on refrigerated shipping containers known as reefers. When a reefer full of French fries arrives in Vancouver waiting for a ride to Japan, it needs to be plugged in. But with containers piling up at ports, space for even a regular sea can is hard to find,” according to Vancouver is Awesome. Moreover, there are only a small number of ships at sea that can plug in a refrigerated container, complicating the problem further.

As a result, the mid-November storm disrupted the supply chain to the extent that potato shipments from the Vancouver port to McDonald’s in Japan were affected. According to Bloomberg, the two major freight railways that carry two-thirds of the cargo transported to the Vancouver port by land had fixed the damaged lines and had restarted operations.

This isn’t the first time that McDonald’s Japan is facing a potato shortage. In Dec. 2014, the company faced a similar problem. A dispute had broken out between terminal operators and 20,000 dockworkers. Consequently, shipping lines at 29 ports along the U.S. west coast delayed the shipment of potatoes to the Asian nation.

McDonald’s had to sell small-sized French fries to its Japanese customers for some time. The company imported more than 1,000 tons of frozen fries via air freight to help the shortage at the time.

Last August, at its UK outlets, McDonald’s faced supply shortages of bottled drinks and shakes. One of the main reasons blamed for the supply crunch was the shortage of shipping truck drivers. McDonald’s also blamed the aftermath of Brexit for the crisis.