The crunch of potato chips is a staple at lunchtime around the world—especially Japan. There, you can find potato-chip flavors from pizza to plum. But after four strong storms called typhoons struck the province of Hokkaido last August, the popular snack is growing scarce. The typhoons caused a weak potato crop in Hokkaido, which grows 80 percent of Japan’s potatoes. The resulting potato price hikes and shortages caused the Nikkei, a Japanese newspaper, to dub the situation a “Potato Crisis.”
Last Monday, Calbee, one of the major snack food companies in Japan, announced that it will temporarily stop selling 15 different kinds of potato chips due to the shortage. The company makes the most popular snacks in Japan. Fans of certain flavors such as French salad, pizza, and consommé (a rich broth flavor) rushed to stock up, resulting in bare shelves at grocery stores.
Calbee hopes to get potato chips back on the shelves by relying on potato imports from the United States and by asking farmers in Kyushu, another produce growing region in Japan, to harvest their potato crops early. Some snack making companies in Japan, however, refuse to or cannot use imported potatoes due to strict regulations meant to protect Japanese farmers.
The most devoted potato chip fans can still find their favorite flavors—for a cost. Bags of temporarily cancelled Calbee potato chip flavors have appeared on auction sites like Yahoo! Japan or online shopping sites like Mercari, but for 2 to 6 times their normal retail price.