As a result of unfavorable weather during the growing season for potatoes, the United States and Canada are preparing for the possibility of a French fry shortage. According to food industry experts, the shortage is the result of unusually cold and wet weather, which damaged many of the crops for some of the largest producers in North America.
Potato processors are rushing to buy supplies and ship them across North America in order to keep French fries on the menu after cold, wet weather damaged crops in key producers in the U.S. and Canada.
The low production numbers this year coincide with an increase in demand, especially in Canada where an increase in fry producing capacity has driven more sales. According to Stephen Nicholson, a senior grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank, this will mean increased prices for potatoes and all related products in North America. It is possible that prices may rise internationally as well, since the United States will not be able to export as much as they typically do, reducing the supply on the global market.
“French fry demand has just been outstanding lately, and so suppliers can’t meet the demand,” Travis Blacker, industry-relations director with the Idaho Potato Commission, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg.
Bad growing seasons happen from time to time for different crops, but this year is surely the worst in recent history for potatoes. According to The United Potato Growers of Canada, roughly 12,000 acres, or about 4,900 hectares of the planted area in Manitoba was left unharvested this year. This is roughly 18% of the crop area in Manitoba, which is one of the largest producers of potatoes in Canada, followed only by Alberta and Prince Edward Island. In Alberta, it was estimated that 6.5% of the province's potatoes were damaged by the frost this season.
In the United States, The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects that potato production will decrease by at least 6.1% this year, which is the lowest number seen in the states since 2010. Meanwhile, Idaho, the top producer of potatoes in the US, is expecting its output to drop by 5.5%.
French fries are a product that seems to be especially sensitive to these shortages because specific types of potatoes are needed to make them. In the current shortage, many of the potatoes that are getting harvested are smaller than usual, which poses a problem for fry makers because they prefer long potatoes to give their french fries the expected long appearance.
Not everyone is panicking though. Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, says that the east coast of Canada had a much better growing season than they expected to this year, and that distributors are just going to need to get creative and find new suppliers in order to keep up with demand this season.
“It’s a manageable situation. Potatoes are going to have to move from one channel to another that they sometimes don’t move in a normal year,” MacIsaac told Bloomberg.
Cavendish Farms, another potato producer in Alberta, Canada, said in a statement that they aren't expecting any shortages, despite the industry-wide problems with this year's crops.