The great Japan potato chip crisis: panic buying, $16 bags

Akira Matsumoto, chairman and chief executive of Calbee, opens a pack of the company's potato chips in better times, 2016.
TORU HANAI/REUTERS

Akira Matsumoto, chairman and chief executive of Calbee, opens a pack of the company's potato chips in better times, 2016.

Demand for potato chips has surged in Japan this week, with products on offer for six times their retail price online after Japanese snack company Calbee halted the sale of some of its most popular chip brands.

Calbee's pizza-flavoured chips were going for about 1250 yen (NZ$16.50) on Yahoo Japan's auction website on Friday (Saturday, NZT).

One bag usually sells for less than 200 yen (NZ$2.63). Photos of near-empty shelves at their local supermarkets were trending on Twitter.

The crunch came after Calbee warned on Monday that it would temporarily halt the sale of 15 types of potato chips due to a bad crop in Hokkaido, a key potato-producing region.

The northern island was hit by a record number of typhoons last year.

Calbee, which has a market value of 507.9 billion yen and is 20 per cent owned by PepsiCo, has a 73 per cent market share of potato chips.

Potato chips are a big deal in Japan, a country also known for its senbei rice crackers and Pocky sticks.

Calbee's potato-snack products were the most and second-most popular snacks in a TV Asahi poll of 10,000 people and 13 confectionery makers last year, and the subject of a primetime show that lasted more than two hours.

While the focus has been on potato chips following Calbee's announcement, the shortage may spread to fast-food chains and restaurants that rely on spuds for their dishes in what appears to be shaping up to be the nation's "Potato Crisis," according to the Nikkei newspaper.

Ad Feedback

"We're doing everything we can to resume sales again," said Rie Makuuchi, a spokeswoman for Tokyo-based Calbee.

She said the company will consider using more imported potatoes from the US and ask potato farmers in the southern island of Kyushu to harvest their crop earlier than scheduled.

She also cited regulatory hurdles, which limit the amount of imported potatoes that can be used in products, as partly responsible for the shortage.

It's not the first time Japan's seen a shortage of food staples - a declining number of dairy farmers and lack of imports due to high tariffs has led to butter shortages in the past, accompanied by exhaustive media coverage.

Smaller potato-chip rival Koike-ya had also halted the sale of nine snack products.

The company only used domestic potatoes and therefore won't rely on imports, according to spokesman Kazuya Obata. Both Koike-ya and Calbee said they weren't sure when sales would resume.

Twitter users sent encouraging tweets to Calbee, which apologised for the crunch via its official Twitter account. If nothing else, the shortage appeared to remind people how much they liked their potato chips.

"I realised how addicted I was to potato chips after the halt," one person tweeted. "I'll be waiting for sales to resume. Hang in there!"

 - Bloomberg

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback