TOPJapan’s French Fry Crisis Has Global Roots

Japan’s French Fry Crisis Has Global Roots

By Alec Jordan

Its motto may famously boast that “the smiles are free,” but its fries are in short supply. Fast-food retailer McDonald’s Japanese branches have resorted to rationing their salty fried potatoes side item as a shortage rocks the nation’s fast food industry.

The tater deficit is being blamed on American west coast industrial disputes; in a statement to the AFP, a McDonald’s spokesman explained: “It is difficult for us to get potatoes in a sustainable manner due to lagging labor negotiations on the US west coast.” These tensions between dockworkers’ unions and the Pacific Maritime Association have been simmering for months, leading those employees to understaff their shifts in order to raise the stakes in the ongoing negotiations.

As Japan’s McDonald’s branches wait for those importers to resume their typically efficient output, the fast food giant has been forced to only offer small size fry options with their meal combos. According to, this contingency may linger throughout the holiday season, as reliable shipments are rumored to only arrive in January.

This is the second scandal that McDonald’s Japanese branches have grappled with in 2014. Bloomberg notes that chicken products were nixed from the restaurants’ menus in July, after Shanghai Husi Food Co. admitted that it had fudged the sell-by dates of those poultry exports. That blunder may or may not have led to the invention of Tofu McNuggets, but they did lead to a 12 percent dip in sales at McDonald’s across Japan—a decline that could be worsened by the current fry crisis.

But at least this time, McDonald’s isn’t the only one feeling the pinch. The Pacific Maritime dispute also hampered butter imports last month, forcing grocery stores to scramble with public demand. This issue grew contentious enough to prompt the Japanese government to buy more butter on the international market in order to stoke the output of domestic producers. Just as those measures began to successfully quench Japan’s butter demand, the current potato shortage began to take hold. The industry is looking for equally creative solutions to the spud scarcity, airlifting an emergency shipment of potatoes weighing 1,000 tonnes, and coordinating another 1,600 tonnes through an alternate sea route.

But McDonald’s said, in a press release, that those efforts are coming up short, adding: “this is not enough to offer a stable supply to customers … We will temporarily change our product line-up … until a stable supply of potatoes is in sight.”

—Kyle Mullin

Image: nomadize/Flickr (CC)