Japan Faces Dire Potato-Chip Crunch

Japan Faces Dire Potato-Chip Crunch
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What you need to know

Japan's potato harvest has fallen short, forcing chip makers to halt production.

By David Z. Morris

An unprecedented series of storms that battered Japan’s Hokkaido farming region last summer has now forced potato-chip maker Calbee to temporarily halt production of nearly three dozen potato chip varieties. Some store shelves are already empty, and panic-buying has sent the price of a bag of chips on auction sites to absurd heights.

According to Singapore’s Today, Japan has had its worst potato harvest in 34 years. Calbee reportedly imported only about 15 percent of its potatoes from the U.S. in 2015 and has been unable to increase imports enough to completely cover the supply shortfall.

Calbee stock dropped 3 percent on the announcement. Another snackmaker, Koike-ya, made a similar announcement, and its stock dropped 8 percent.

Though the nation’s culinary reputation hinges on the refined pleasures of sushi and ramen, Japan’s approach to chips is no less artful. Years before Lay’s invited public pitches for Bacon Mac & Cheese or Cappuccino chips, Calbee and other Japanese snack makers were offering Wasabi, seaweed, and even lemon-flavored varieties.

According to Quartz, Calbee is suspending some of its more unique offerings, including pizza, plum, and French salad chips. The loss of pizza chips, in particular, seems to be triggering anxiety — a search of Yahoo! Japan’s auction site shows dozens of listings for the flavor, with prices going as high as 1500 yen, or about US$14, per bag.

It’s hard to say how many takers there are at that price, but it could actually go higher. Though Calbee initially said it would stop shipping the flavors on April 22, Nikkei reports that a huge surge in demand forced them to pull the plug early, on April 12.

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