Disruption of McDonald’s potato imports spurs Japan’s fries ‘war’

This photo provided shows McDonald’s small fries. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The recent rationing of French fries by McDonald’s Co. (Japan) due to a disruption in potato imports is prompting competitors to grab a bigger share of the market, triggering what social media users have called it “a potato war”. ”

Restaurant operator McDonald’s in Japan said it will only offer smaller portions of its fries for about a month starting Jan. 9 in all of its approximately 2,900 stores nationwide. This is the second time in two months that the company has restricted sales of this popular item.

Flooding near a Vancouver port and a global logistical disruption triggered by the coronavirus pandemic have delayed potato imports from North America, leading the company to suspend sales of medium portions and large fries for a week in December.

The restaurant chain said the continued delay in imports due to bad weather forced it to impose a new restriction on sales. The company has also temporarily suspended the supply of hash browns at certain locations.

The move has rattled many consumers in Japan, with the term “poteto nanmin” (potato refugees) going viral on social media.

“I felt so sad about the rationing because I love french fries,” said a 30-year-old man who recently bought a small portion at a McDonald’s store in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district. “Hopefully they fix the supply issue soon.”

Some competitors are taking advantage of the situation.

The burger chain Freshness Burger, under Colowide Co., launched a campaign on January 14, increasing its fries servings by 25% through February 27.

The company said it does not face a supply shortage as it sources potatoes from Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island known for its agricultural produce.

“We are launching this campaign to save potato refugees,” Freshness Burger said on its website. “We want to meet their potato needs.”

The operator of the Ministop Co. convenience store chain began offering “potato bucket” fries three times the size of regular portions on January 14.

Ministop said the new product was inspired by better-than-expected sales when it increased portions of fries by 50% around the end of the year and the New Year holidays. McDonald’s did not offer a medium and large portions of fries during part of this period.

The increased competition has led to many tweeting about “a potato war”, with a message saying, “It’s a welcome war for fries lovers”.

Tatsunori Taniai, 33, who recently visited a McDonald’s store in Tokyo, said he was a loyal fan of his fries. “There are times when I just need that junk food taste. So I don’t think I’ll immediately switch to other companies’ products,” he said, adding, “But if the potato shortage continues, there are no guarantees”.

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