Potato Shortage Leads To Global Shortage Of French Fries, Potato Chips
French fries served in a McDonald's restaurant in Pushkin Square, the first to have opened in the Soviet Union.
Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images

Fast food restaurants across the world are experiencing a shortage of french fries.

The United States is one of the top producers of potatoes globally — but lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced U.S. farmers to destroy hundreds of tons of potatoes in 2020, and the supply has not fully recovered. On top of that, supply chain issues have hampered the exports of this year’s crop. These issues have led to fast food chains from Kenya to Japan scaling back on french fry orders or even running out of them.

Japan is the largest overseas market for U.S. potatoes, accounting for $342 million in exports, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Frozen potato products like french fries account for nearly two-thirds of those exports, more than $230 million in exports. Moreover, the United States is the “sole foreign supplier of fresh chipping potatoes in Japan.”

Japan is also home to more than 3,000 McDonald’s franchises, according to The Washington Post, and relies heavily on U.S. potato exports. The Post reported that Japan was considering flying in potatoes to ease supply bottlenecks, but snowstorms battered the West Coast of North America and further delayed shipments. McDonald’s was forced to restrict french fry orders in Japan to just the small size for the foreseeable future.

Days after McDonald’s Japan made the announcement, leading potato chip manufacturers in South Africa warned that global supply issues and low local crop yields due to adverse weather conditions had created a short supply of potatoes for chip-making.

KFC locations in Kenya have also been affected by the shortage, with Kenyan locations running out of french fries, colloquially known as chips, because of shipping delays more than a month long.

“Ya’ll loved our chips a little too much, and we’ve run out. Sorry!” KFC Kenya tweeted on January 3. “Our team is working hard to resolve the issue.”

Kenya’s problems were exacerbated by the fact that, because of global quality assurance regulations, the country could not switch to domestic potatoes.

In the United States, Americans are dealing with their own share of shortages of dietary staples. New York City bagel shops have been dealing with a shortage of cream cheese, threatening the business of bagel shops across the city. The Daily Wire reported:

New York bagel shops go through thousands of pounds of cream cheese in the course of a few weeks, the Times reported. Most shops make their own cream cheese spreads, using unprocessed raw cream cheese as a base and adding their own ingredients and flavors. They cannot use store-bought cream cheese, and their customers would notice if they did, the store owners told the Times.

Phil Pizzano, a sales representative with wholesale food distributor Fischer Foods, said the problem runs up and down the supply chain. A shortage of manufacturing labor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a trucker shortage because of vaccine mandates, and a shortage of packaging materials.

“It sounds kind of silly, talking about this like it’s some kind of huge crisis,” Pugliese said, but bagels and cream cheese are a “big deal” to his customers, even “sacred.” “I hate feeling like I’ve let people down,” he added.

Several customers told the Times that if cream cheese was not available, they would be less likely to even buy a bagel. “Probably not, no,” said one customer when asked if he would buy a bagel without cream cheese. “That’s an essential part of the bagel,” the customer said.

Cream cheese is not the only staple item that is running short. The Daily Wire previously reported that popular food items from chicken tenders to maple syrup to liquor are all affected by the supply chain bottlenecks, leading to shortages.

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