Is the World Running Out of French Fries?
Here's the lowdown on the "global potato shortage."
(SPOT.ph) Sure, it might be the burgers or the fried chicken that ultimately fills you up when at fast-food chains. But no meal at these spots is complete without an order of their respective takes on fries, what with their salty, crisp-fluffy character that goes with just about anything; raise your hands if you've ever dropped by or placed an order even just for these spuds! Over the past weeks, though, it hasn’t been easy sating that need for fried potatoes—McDonald’s Philippines, for one, recently posted an advisory on their Large and BFF-sized fries being unavailable for the time being. We’ve similarly observed fries being unavailable at spots like Army Navy and KFC Philippines, along with mashed potatoes for the latter.
Is there an international potato shortage happening? Here's what we know so far.
It’s Not Just Us (For Better or Worse)
We’re definitely not alone—there has, in fact, been a bit of a French-fry dilemma around the globe. Outside the Philippines, McDonald’s in Malaysia and Indonesia also temporarily stopped selling fries in the Large size. In February, KFC Singapore also replaced side orders of french fries with their Waffle Hash at a number of locations.
Heck, even as far back as December 2021, there’s been news of McDonald’s Japan rationing their fries and selling the spuds only in the small serving size. In January, KFC in Kenya also announced “running out” of their fries (locally termed “chips”). And on a related note, over in South Africa, famed potato-chip brands Lays and Simba were left with low stocks of their flagship snacks.
What’s Going On?
There is what’s said to be a “growing global potato shortage,” according to the Washington Post as far back as January 2022—and in large part this has to do with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and “extreme weather.”
Now when you hear the word shortage you might think potatoes—i.e. the raw material, the vegetable—are themselves in short supply. True enough, South Africa’s potato-chip situation is attributed to “frost conditions” that were said to affect crop yields—thus disrupting the spud supply chain, at least for the specific variety used to make potato chips.
Canada also suspended potato exports from Prince Edward Island to the U.S. back in November of 2021 upon finding a potato wart fungus in two fields the month prior. Following a survey by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that followed, however, no wart was found, and Canada is expected to resume exporting Prince Edward Island (PEI) potatoes to the U.S. soon. Yet with this also came the accumulation of potatoes on PEI farms—we’re talking in the 300-million pound mark—which farmers were forced to destroy.
But as writer Dan Nosowitz points out in an article on food and farming website Modern Farmer, much of these shortages can be attributed to “particular circumstances” versus an actual scarcity of potatoes themselves.
Most fast-food chains generally rely on frozen fries—in the case of KFC Singapore for example, theirs are shipped in from the U.S. and Europe. Apart from labor shortages and lower crop yields in the Pacific Northwest (home to the famed Idaho variety of spuds), you’ve also got overloaded U.S. and Canadian ports in the West coast—ergo limiting the supplies of fries. “The pandemic-related disruptions continue to have a multi-prong effect on the global supply chain and distribution network,” the KFC Singapore’s Diana Hoo tells Bloomberg. Ditto for McDonald’s Indonesia, who cites pandemic-related “delivery constraints of potato supplies."
It’s a similar case for McDonald’s from the Land of the Rising Sun. Most of the spuds Japan imports hail from the U.S., but with flooding at the port of Vancouver came slowed potato shipments—and thus rationed french-fry orders.
As for this side of the globe? “All McDonald's stores in the Philippines continue to serve fries,” McDonald’s Philippines’ Corporate Relations Director Adi Hernandez explains in an exchange with SPOT.ph. “While we feel the pressure from the on-going global freight crisis, we are managing our potato inventory by serving only the regular fries size, to allow more of our customers to keep enjoying our World Famous Fries for a longer period of time.”
Given the supply issues arising out of matters with transportation, you’d wonder why these restaurants wouldn’t opt to get their potatoes from elsewhere—like, say, locally. In KFC Kenya’s case, the chip insufficiency didn’t just disappoint locals who had to pause their cravings for the time being; it also stirred up questions on why there would be a “shortage” when their own local potatoes were in season.
KFC Kenya originally cited global quality standards for their giving Kenyan potatoes the cold shoulder—though they would stated in January that there is the possibility of opening their doors to local suppliers who “meet the global KFC quality and safety specifications,” in the “near future.” "Unfortunately, the quality and safety specifications for new supplies are proprietary to KFC.”
It looks like a whole lot of things went down across the globe that hit our need for the potato, at least from these spots. So while we practice portion control with our fries, at the back of our minds, there is now the thought of all the ways these spuds ended up on our fast-food tables in the first place—and whether or not those methods made sense in the grand scheme of things. Now excuse us while we hunker over to the stove to make our fries the old-fashioned way.
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this strange new world.