French fries aren’t really just a side dish, are they? Do you order them along with your burger, or do you order that burger along with your fries? For many, the scrumptious, deep-fried potato slivers are the main course, ergo generous servings known as large fries.
But in the last couple of months, McDonald’s and KFC outlets in countries across the globe have begun scrimping on French fries and other potato-based products. The latest to feel the crunch is McDonald’s in Indonesia, where, as of this week, customers can only order small and medium sizes “due to the limited availability of French fries at this time.”
“Hopefully we can bring good news as soon as possible, when the Large French Fries are available again. Be patient, McD'ers,” McDonald’s Indonesia said in a tweet on Wednesday.
That was a little over a week after McDonald’s in neighboring Malaysia also made that “sacri-fries,” as the company put it in a pun-laden video announcement on Jan. 24.
“We are facing a fry-tening supply crunch on French Fries. But fret not. While you can’t Go Large for the time being, you can still enjoy your favourite meals and fries in Medium size. Time fries… It’ll be back before you know it,” McDonald’s Malaysia said on Instagram.
McDonald’s in Japan also took French fry austerity measures late last year. Over the holidays—from Dec. 24 to 30—Japanese diners could only buy fries in the small size, “so that many customers will continue to enjoy it without interruption,” the company said in a statement.
In Taiwan, meanwhile, some McDonald’s stores went without the early morning incarnation of fried potatoes: hash browns, which were pulled off the menu in the second week of January.
But it’s not just McDonald’s or Asia that are being hit. In Kenya last month, KFC offered fried chicken—its flagship product—as an alternative side dish when it completely ran out of French fries, called “chips” in the country.
Last year, bad weather also affected potato varieties favored by makers of potato chips, and in South Africa, grocery stores nearly ran out of brands Lay’s and Simba in December.
“We experienced disruptions in our potato supply due to frost conditions affecting crop yields,” John Stevenson, a senior vice president at snack maker PepsiCo Sub-Saharan Africa, told Business Insider South Africa in December.
As staple a food as it gets, a shortage of french fries is a counterintuitive occurrence. But as we’ve repeatedly learnt over the past two years, things can always get worse during the pandemic, with these companies placing much of the blame for this shortage on the ongoing health crisis.
McDonald’s Indonesia officer Sutji Lantyka told Detik news outlet of “delivery constraints of potato supplies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” While KFC East Africa CEO Jacques Theunissen told the Business Daily on Jan. 4 that, “ships have been delayed for more than a month now.”
Theunissen’s explanation, however, put the local KFC franchise in hot grease with local potato producers, who blasted the restaurant chain’s dependence on imports when Kenya is able to produce a million tons of the crop yearly. And it was in season during the supposed shortage.
Theunissen explained that local potatoes had not undergone the requisite global quality assessment to ensure their safety, and so KFC had to stick with imports even if it meant running out of chips for a while.
McDonald’s Indonesia’s shortage can also be traced back to its reliance on North American potatoes, as its French fries are made from the Russet Burbank and Shepody varieties. Grown largely in Canada and the U.S, they are favored for their large size and low water content.
In Japan, too, the vast interconnectedness of modern supply chains was laid bare by the shortage, as weather disturbances some 7,500km away kept fries from the tables of consumers in Tokyo. McDonald’s Japan imports potatoes from North America via Vancouver, Canada, and the recent devastating floods in the area, along with the impact of the pandemic, delayed shipments.
Writing for Modern Farmer, author Dan Nosowitz pointed to this “lack of versatility” in the global agricultural trade as the root of current problems, as opposed to a shortage of potatoes themselves.
Unaware of these supply chain idiosyncrasies, some commenters on social media asked why these fast food chains couldn’t just source potatoes elsewhere. Others said good riddance, French fries were no good for people’s health anyway. But lovers of large fries, or French fries in general, have expressed their pure, unadulterated grief.
“The apocalypse is upon us,” said one Instagram user. User clintonjeff—in all caps—asked whether it’s the end of the world. “Where do I sign up to protest against this sacri-fries?!” said another user.
Taking a more level-headed approach is a TikTok user aptly named Ur mom: “Wouldn’t they just order 6 small fries?”
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