Complete with rationing and emergency airlifts, Japan has entered the great french fry shortage of 2014.
McDonald’s on Wednesday began limiting french fry servings at its 3,200 Japanese stores to the smallest of the usual three sizes, blaming a shortage of processed potatoes from the United States.
The problem has also affected other restaurant chains, as a dockworker dispute on the U.S. West Coast has reverberated across the Pacific Ocean.
McDonald’s apologized to its customers in Japan with signs posted on cash registers and a message on its local website.
“Because we are currently having difficulty stably procuring McDonald’s French fries, we are offering them in the small size only,” the note on the website said.
Nobuhiro Abe, 34, an office worker grabbing a late lunch in the Shiodome district of Tokyo, said, “I just found out about it when I ordered, and I was surprised.”
He took it in stride and used his smartphone to download a discount coupon for 50 yen, or about 40 cents, that McDonald’s offered as compensation, putting the saving toward an apple pie.
“It worked out pretty well in the end,” he said.
McDonald’s has also cut by 50 yen the price of meals that normally come with a medium-size order of fries.
The fry shortage stems from a long-running labor dispute at 29 U.S. seaports, where 20,000 longshoreman have been without a contract since July.
Operators of the ports, which are all on the West Coast and handle about half of the U.S. foreign trade, have accused dockworkers of deliberately slowing shipments, although unions say the ports were strained by a lack of capacity to begin with.
The dispute has been blamed for disrupting exports to Asia of other goods as well, like Christmas trees grown in the Pacific Northwest. But McDonald’s appears to have been especially hard hit.
It remained unclear when the dockworkers dispute might be resolved. In a short “negotiations update” posted on its website Wednesday, the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port employers, sounded pessimistic.
“Even after seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on several issues, and the union slowdowns continue to disrupt the movement of cargo through the ports,” it said.