- A poor potato harvest caused by cold, wet weather has left American food retailers bracing for a potential french fry shortage, according to Bloomberg.
- Many of the potatoes that were salvageable are smaller than what processors typically prefer.
- Meanwhile, potato processing capacity has grown in Canada, boosting demand. This could lead to tight supplies and climbing prices for french fries throughout North America.
Idaho Potato Commission president Frank Muir told the New York Times not to panic about the impending shortage, and said restaurant-goers won't find their favorite side item out of stock any time soon.
Potato growing regions like Idaho were able to harvest roughly 85% of the potato crop, and regions unaffected by the harsh weather pattern like China, India and Russia were the top three potato producers in 2017. Canada, where the potato crop was particularly impacted by the weather, is not even among the top 10 global potato producers. In Idaho alone, the potato crop forecast is 13 billion pounds, according to the Idaho Potato Commission.
Long-term temperature-controlled holding facilities for successfully harvested potatoes will also help soften any long-term effects of the poor harvest.
Food shortages are a common occurrence in the restaurant industry and most retailers have contingency plans and methods for offsetting an upset in key ingredient categories. Avocados have been throwing restaurants a number of challenges this year, for example. This spring, President Trump's threats to close the Mexican border led to a 34% surge in avocado prices, putting Chipotle and other chains that feature them in their menus in a lurch. Increasing demand and a rough growing season plagued the avocado industry later in the year, leading some restaurants to raise prices or cut portions. Some reports even suggested that faux guacamole was being dished up to appease customers.
Taco Bell also underwent a tortilla shortage this summer due to what it described as a supplier issue, while Impossible Burger fell short on being able to supply some of its restaurant partners with enough alternative meat patties to meet demand. A romaine recall last year forced restaurants to turn to other leafy greens to fill orders.
Fast casual restaurants and local brands typically have more flexibility when responding to this situation through flexible menus where items can be rotated to adjust to shortages. Others have worked to diversify their supply chains to offset shortages from one supplier. Restaurants are often forced to raise prices on specific menu items during ingredient shortages, which can hurt diner perception. Whether or not chains will need to do so to weather this potato shortage remains to be seen, but Burger King told the Times that it did not expect any shortages.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the U.S. potato production forecast for this year was misstated. The Idaho Potato Commission expects a production of 13 billion pounds from Idaho alone for 2019.