B.C. floods, COVID-19 lead to McDonald’s potato shortage in Japan

Nearly 3,000 McDonald’s stores across Japan are forced to ration French fries during the holiday season after a shipping bottleneck in Vancouver caused a potato shortage an ocean away.

On December 21, McDonald’s Japan Co. Chairman and CEO Tamotsu Hiiro said in a translated statement that their locations often ship potatoes through Vancouver on a large scale.

But recent flooding and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 have forced the iconic fast food chain to clamp down. From December 24 to December 30, McDonald’s Japan will suspend the sale of orders of medium and large fries; Instead, it will ration the fries into small portions.

In an email to Glacier Media from McDonald’s Japan, the company said the move is a “proactive measure” and that there have been no “supply disruptions” so far.

The potato shortage comes just days before many Japanese fast food diners descend on chains like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Christmas tradition in Japan.

The news of the small fry was met with great reactions from customers in Japan.

“A truly disastrous end to 2021,” wrote a British transplant on Twitter.

“The end of the world (as we know it) is here,” wrote another.


The Japanese potato shortage is the latest disruption in a global supply chain under significant pressure for the past 18 months.

During that time, COVID-19 has led more people to stay home, spending money on an online shopping spree rather than at a restaurant, a movie theater or traveling, explains Trevor Heaver, a professor specializing in supply chains at Sauder. School of UBC. Business.

As more Americans buy goods produced in Asia, the cost of shipping a container of goods west across the Pacific has skyrocketed about 150 percent from last year, according to the UK. maritime consulting firm Drewry.

That means shipping companies have every incentive to unload cargo at a port like Vancouver and immediately ship the empty container to China for another high-value voyage back to North America.

“The steamship lines are running the empty containers,” says the former head of a Vancouver-based importer.

With so many containers returning at once, the ships are overwhelmed, leading to long waits, from English Bay to the ports of Seattle and Los Angeles.

At one point on Wednesday, 44 ships floated off the coast waiting to dock at one of the port authority’s berths. Why does this happen several weeks after the flood?

Think of it as a traffic jam, says Heaver.

A cascade of events, from a spike in Christmas shopping to a ship blocking the Suez Canal, compound delays, one on top of the other, until for some companies at the far end of the supply chain, the system breaks down. breaks.

“When cars are backing up a freeway entrance, it takes a lot longer to get rid of that backup than it does to create it,” says Heaver.


McDonald’s is particular about its potatoes. When the company first franchised its locations in the 1950s on its way to becoming a global giant, it only fried the Russet Burbank potato. The company now accepts six varieties of Russet, in addition to the Shepody potato, which is grown primarily in Canada.

What do they all have in common? They “have gone through extensive testing to determine if they are fried crisp and light in color with a mashed potato texture on the inside,” according to the Idaho Potato Commission.

Ross Johnson, the commission’s director of international marketing, says Japan’s restrictions on the import of raw vegetables mean McDonald’s fries must be processed in North America before shipping.

Companies like McCain, Cavendish Farms, Lamb Weston and JR Simplot are among a small group of processors who cut, prepare and export McDonald’s French fries from North American farms to fast food places around the world.

Whether from Idaho or Washington, all the fries a Tokyo resident puts in their mouths have spent weeks in refrigerated containers known as reefers.

When a refrigerator full of fries arrives in Vancouver waiting to be delivered to Japan, it needs to be plugged in. But with the containers stacked in the ports, it is difficult to find space even for a normal sea can.

At sea, there are a limited number of ships that can plug in a reefer container, adding another bottleneck.

So when a tongue of warm and humid air in mid-November dumped record rain across southern British Columbia, destroying the railways and roads that feed this already strained system, it all came to a head.

As a Vancouver Port Authority spokesperson Fraser said in an email, “The recent British Columbia flood event exacerbated the supply chain challenges already occurring on the west coast of North America.”


Heaver says companies around the world are beginning to question the just-in-time ethic that has dominated the import and export business for decades.

First popularized in Toyota’s automotive production line, the just-in-time model means that a company does not need to maintain a large inventory, helping them cut costs. But in an unpredictable world, ‘just-in-time’ shipping struggles to adapt to the impacts of a pandemic and the more frequent extreme weather.

Just as a family preparing an emergency kit includes an evacuation plan, extra water, and freeze-dried food, companies must create backup plans, Heaver says.

Instead of just-in-time shipping, he says, have more inventory on hand. And when it runs out, a business better have other sources to supply its hungry customers.

Until then, Japanese potato chip junkies will have to make do with a 0.56 cent discount.

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