TOKYO – Already reeling from a butter shortage, Japan is now being buffeted by another food crisis: McDonalds is running out of french fries and will start rationing the crispy delicacy. There’s no super-sizing here. From Wednesday, customers will be able to buy only small packs of fries with their orders, which in Japan includes crab croquette burgers and gurakoro, a pattie that includes shrimp and mac and cheese. The reason for the shortage? Labor disputes at U.S. West Coast ports are holding up shipments. As a result, only 55 percent of the monthly average volume of french fries is likely to be imported to Japan in December, the Asahi Shimbun reported. An announcement in red letters on the fast-food chain’s Japanese Web site alerts customers that the difficulty procuring stable supplies of French fries has led the chain to take this stance.
“This is a measure we’ve decided to take because we might run out of fries. We apologize to customers for the inconvenience,” a company official told Kyodo News.
Meal deals that usually come with medium fries will be 40 cents cheaper, and McDonalds is not placing any limits on how many small packets of fries a customer can order. No word yet on the impact on another local McDonalds product offering: the classic Quattro cheese fries.
With the major U.S. ports of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle tied up in a contract dispute, McDonalds has taken emergency measures: It is airlifting supplies of frozen fries – 1,000 tons of them – and has put in an order for another 1,600 tons to come from East Coast ports. However, these won’t arrive until late January. And Gusto, a family restaurant chain, earlier this month had about 200 tons of french fries air-freighted in to avoid running out.
But these steps will not be enough to meet Japanese demand for U.S. spuds. Japan is, as Reuters reported, the biggest Asian market for American frozen potato products. The French Fry Crisis of 2014 comes hot on the heels of a butter shortage that has seen the sticks of the yellow fat rationed to one per customer, if they’re lucky enough to find it on supermarket shelves. That shortage is blamed on an unusually hot summer, which left Japan’s cows exhausted and unable to produce their usual volume of milk. Still, don’t feel too sorry for the Japanese. There’s no sign that their country is running out of fresh sushi or chewy noodles.