Japan's food service industry is in the middle of a potato shortage, due to a port labour dispute on the US West Coast.
Most of the nation's chain restaurants use processed spuds from the United States to make french fries, and the prolonged dispute is delaying shipments of the fast food ingredient. McDonald's Holdings Co. (Japan) stopped selling large- and medium-size fries on Wednesday, and other restaurant chain operators are starting to consider such measures as the expensive process of flying in supplies and suspending french fry sales.
Restaurant chain operator Skylark Co. is set to fly in about 250 tons of processed potatoes this month, the equivalent of several weeks' supply for its group restaurants, including Gusto. It would be the first time for Skylark to do so since it opened the nation's first family restaurant in 1970.
At Gusto, french fries are served alongside the restaurant chain's main staples, including hamburger steaks.
Air freight costs more than ten times as much as sea transport. "We can't pass on the additional costs in our prices because of the possible impact on sales. But this is an ingredient that we have to secure by any means," Skylark President Makoto Tani said.
McDonald's Japan annually imports about 120,000 tons of french fries. The chain has already restricted servings to their smallest size.
Port labour negotiations on the West Coast are held every six years, and talks are frequently troubled by such issues as streamlining operations. Longshoremen began slowing down their work in October, to disrupt the movement of cargo as a form of protest.
McDonald's Japan secured extra potato stock at an earlier time, but the company plans to have an additional 1,000 tons of potatoes flown in this month due to shortages.