Shortages of fries are being reported at various fast food chains across the world due to logistical problems, but the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT) says Belgium needn’t worry just yet.
Shortly before Christmas, McDonald's switched to a rationing system, serving customers only a small portion of fries while an emergency supply of 1,000 tonnes of frozen chips was flown in. In Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is facing the same problems.
McDonald’s says their shortage has to do with flooding in south-western Canada, which disrupted supply from the port of Vancouver.
The American fast-food chain JG Melon is also reported to be experiencing supply problems in New York and in South Africa, and the chips brand Lay's is likewise having difficulty due to potato shortages.
Belgian sector unaffected
Belgian producers may stand to benefit from the current market mood and shortages.
“I have learned from my predecessor never to make statements about future prices,” Belgapom director Christophe Vermeulen told VILT.
Vermeulen said poor potato yields in some parts of the world may be contributing to shortages but that Belgium isn’t having the same issue. “In Belgium, we certainly don't have a shortage of potatoes. This year, despite the humidity, has been a fine year.”
Separate issues due to pandemic
Still, the sector here faces its own challenges, mainly stemming from the pandemic.
“There is currently a good demand for fries and processors have filled their order books. This period of the year is traditionally a busy time,” said Vermeulen, who added that plants are having difficulties processing orders.
“There is a difficult labour situation as standard, but due to absenteeism caused by the coronavirus, processors are finding it difficult to get the work done at the moment.”
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Filip Wallays, the CEO of fries processor Agristo, told De Tijd much the same: “Because so many people are ill or in quarantine, it is difficult to get a full workforce. Corona creates a perfect storm, the repercussions of which you see worldwide.”
Wallays predicted that the potato shortage will have an impact on product prices, which are already higher than usual.
“The potato price itself is still reasonable, even though it is now some 20% above the five-year average. But especially the increased prices of production, logistics and energy cannot be fully passed on,” said Wallays.