TOKYO • Demand for potato chips has surged in Japan this week, with products on sale 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-flavored chips were going for about 1,250 yen (S$16) on Yahoo Japan's auction website yesterday. One bag usually sells for less than 200 yen.
Photos of near-empty shelves at local supermarkets were trending on Twitter.
The crunch came after Calbee on Monday said it will 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. Potato snack products by Calbee made up the top two most popular snacks in a TV Asahi poll of 10,000 people and 13 confectionery makers last year.
LOYAL CUSTOMERS WAITING
I realised how addicted I was to potato chips after the halt. I'll be waiting for sales to resume. Hang in there!
A TWITTER USER, offering words of encouragement to Calbee in its crisis.
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.
"We're doing everything we can to resume sales again," said Ms Rie Makuuchi, a spokesman 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.
This is not the first time Japan has seen a shortage of food staples. A declining number of dairy farmers and lack of imports due to high tariffs had led to butter shortages in the past, accompanied by exhaustive media coverage.
Smaller potato chip rival Koikeya has also halted the sale of nine snack products. Koikeya only uses domestic potatoes and therefore will not rely on imports, spokesman Kazuya Obata said. Both Koikeya and Calbee said they were not sure when sales will resume.
Twitter users have sent encouraging tweets to Calbee, which apologised for the crunch via its official account. "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!"