Japan Is Suffering a Nationwide Potato Chip Shortage, and People Are Freaking Out

Potato chips are a multi-million-dollar business in Japan. Like America, the country has several major manufacturers of the snack (commonly referred to as “potato”), including the publicly traded Koike-ya, Yamayoshi, and the ever-popular Calbee. These companies make more than potato chips, but chips are a major contributor to their bottom line.

Unlike America, Japan’s chip flavors are much more interesting than plain, barbecue, and sour cream and onion. Soy sauce, butter, plum, wasabi, and yakitori are among the most common and popular flavors in the country. These bags sell for under a dollar and can be found pretty much anywhere in the country.

Yet right now, you probably won’t find potato chips anywhere in the country. That’s because Japan is going through a nationwide potato chip shortage, and people are reacting just as you’d expect.

How does a country suffer a potato chip shortage?

Most of Japan’s agricultural production takes place on the island of Hokaido, where 80% of the countries potatoes grow. The region saw a startling number of typhoons hit last summer, which caused a drastic drop in potato production. So, yes, this is more a potato shortage than a potato chip shortage, but you can’t have one without the other.

Can’t Japan import potatoes from elsewhere?

Japan can and will import potatoes from the United States. According to spokespeople from the country’s snack companies, the quality of those potatoes isn’t suitable for their products. Potato imports also won’t meet the insatiable demand for potato chips.

How is this affecting prices?

The price of chips nearly doubled in supermarkets, as the shortage made potato chip products scarce. Some enterprising individuals, however, had the idea to purchase remaining potato chip stock in bulk. They then jacked up the price of a single bag by nearly 800% on local shopping sites like Mercari. This let people get their chip fix and others rake in the profit.

Manufacturers Calbee and Koike-ya have since pulled numerous chip flavors from production. Big Bag Lightly Salted, arguably the most popular potato chip in the country, will disappear from shelves for the foreseeable future. Both companies will resume making their chips later in the year when crop yields allow. Until then, the country’s chip fanatics are storming supermarkets en masse to get the remaining flavors while they still can.

How is this affecting stocks?

Koike-ya ($2226 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange) is down this month, though they don’t just rely on chip sales to get by. (The fact that their stock is up slightly today reflects this.) Calbee ($2229 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange) is also seeing a decline on the market, though said decline started much earlier than this shortage. Both companies could continue to see tough times ahead until the potato (chip) shortage is over.

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