National & International

McDonald’s in Japan rationing french fries

TOKYO – Already reeling from a butter shortage, Japan is being buffeted by another food crisis: McDonald’s is running out of french fries and will start rationing the crispy delicacy.

There will be no super-sizing here. Starting Wednesday, customers will be able to buy only small servings of fries with their orders, which in Japan include crab-croquette burgers and gurakoro, a pattie made of shrimp and macaroni 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 newspaper reported.

An announcement in red letters on the fast-food chain’s Japanese Web site alerts customers to the difficulty of procuring stable supplies of french fries. “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 McDonald’s is not placing limits on how many small orders of fries a customer can buy. There is no word yet on how another local McDonald’s product – classic Quattro cheese fries – will be affected.

With the major U.S. ports of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle tied up in the contract dispute, McDonald’s has taken emergency measures. It is airlifting supplies of frozen fries – 1,000 tons of them – and has put in an order for an additional 1,600 tons to come from East Coast ports. But they won’t arrive until late January.

Gusto, a family restaurant chain, this month air-freighted about 200 tons of french fries in an effort to avoid running out. But the steps will not be enough to meet Japanese demand for U.S. spuds. Japan is, as Reuters reported, the biggest Asian market for U.S. frozen potato products.

The French Fry Crisis of 2014 comes hot on the heels of a butter shortage, in which the sticks of the yellow fat have been 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.

But don’t feel too sorry. There’s no sign that Japan is running out of fresh sushi or chewy noodles.