What? Another country has run out of fries? A Quarter Pounder meal is served with arepas or corn cakes at a local McDonald's, in Caracas, Venezuela (AP photos)
What? Another country has run out of fries?
Lexile

Forget the French fries. How about a side of yuca with that Big Mac?

Venezuela's more than 100 McDonald's franchises have run out of potatoes and are now serving alternatives like deep-fried arepa flatbreads or yuca, a starchy staple of traditional South American cooking.

McDonald's is blaming a contract dispute with American West Coast dock workers for halting the export of frozen fries to Venezuela. The dispute also caused several days of French fry rationing in Japan last month. But Sonia Ruseler, an Argentina-based spokeswoman for Arcos Dorados, which runs McDonald's restaurants in Latin America, declined to say why Venezuela's neighbors are not suffering from similar scarcity.

Accustomed to shortages of their favorite foods, and equally in the habit of grumbling about the government as they walk away empty-handed, many Venezuelans assume the embattled socialist administration is to blame.

"It's because of the situation here; it's a total debacle," said Maria Guerreiro, who huffed out of a Caracas McDonald's with her family when she found out they were serving only fries made of yuca, which is also known as cassava. Her daughter won't eat the super-starchy root, she said, and they'd come for the sole purpose of treating the two-year-old to a Happy Meal.

Ruseler said the corporation is working to resolve the shortages and, in the meantime, "will continue to give our clients the McDonald's experience, offering 100 percent Venezuelan options."

John Toaspern, chief marketing officer with the US Potato Board, noted that Venezuela's import of frozen potatoes fell off a cliff long before the labor dispute escalated. During the first 10 months of 2014, the country imported just 14 percent of the frozen fries from major McDonald's supplier WashingtonState that it brought in for the same period the year before, according to federal data compiled by the board.

Most of the shortages in Venezuela are driven in part by the country's tight currency controls, which make it hard to get dollars at a subsidized rate for imports while creating a thriving black market for currency. As a result, the country either has the most expensive Happy Meal in the world ($27 at the official exchange rate) or the cheapest (90 cents at the black market rate).

McDonald's has likely been grappling with shortages in Venezuela for a while, according to Alixa Sharkey, a researcher with the market research company Euromonitor International. And while other countries might be able to adjust to hiccups at the ports by finding alternate solutions like flying in frozen potatoes, the dysfunction in Venezuela makes these workarounds impossible.

"This situation probably has little to do with the U.S. port dispute and is mostly the result of Venezuela's very difficult economic situation," she said.

While McDonald's may be the ultimate symbol of U.S. capitalism, the socialist government seems acutely aware that Venezuelans relish their Happy Meals. A state-sponsored news website posted a story this week assuring the situation "has nothing at all to do" with government policy.

At the Caracas McDonald's, a man wearing an "employee of the month" cap braved the dinner rush recently, patiently explaining to patron after patron that instead of French fries, the store was offering yuca fries, mini-arepas, or salads.

Some customers sampled their pale yuca fries tentatively as they picked up their orders. No one chose the salad.

Critical thinking challenge: Fries are made from potatoes, which grow on farms. So why are dock workers who load ships causing problems for French fry-loving Venezuelans?

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COMMENTS (61)
  • maddie.4
    1/21/2015 - 01:24 p.m.

    It may be a good thing that they are using one of the Venezuelan staple because it may help people learn about their own food and it could be something they could make at home too.

  • Brexa
    1/21/2015 - 01:25 p.m.

    The dock workers could be to blame for inefficiency or problems with casing and packaging. That would be the cause of gridlock with ships trying to reload and some products could go bad during this delay.

  • taylorha-Wal
    1/21/2015 - 02:28 p.m.

    I think that since they ran out fries . the world is so fat and they are use to eating fast food all the time thats why I think they should get rid of fast food . thats why so many people are fat in the world. I think there should be more health choice.

  • brianat-Lam
    1/21/2015 - 05:42 p.m.

    I wonder if McDonald's is going to run out of fries anywhere else or if McDonald's is going to continue to have fries? I hope that we will continue to have fries in our country because most people in our country go to McDonald's for lunch and have fries.

  • MattK-Kan
    1/22/2015 - 11:11 a.m.

    Its beyond weird that a country can not afford to get potatoes. Especially McDonald's which is known for their fries. Imagine if that happened in America people would go insane. I'm surprised with the fact that they are staying relatively calm about it because i know in America people would not handle it very well.

  • AJolene-Sti
    1/22/2015 - 11:23 a.m.

    The McDonald's french fries are the best thing in the world. They ran out of potato to make the french fries. The french fries are the side to anything you get at McDonald's. Millions of people a day go and eat at McDonald's just mainly for the fries or Big Mac.

  • QuentinW-Kan
    1/22/2015 - 11:26 a.m.

    Maybe there is such a high demand that the dock workers and/or the farmers cant keep up and make enough for the people in that counrty.

  • jackz-Koc
    1/22/2015 - 11:57 a.m.

    I learned that our world economic structure is very sensitive. If a part of the world or certain business does not agree with where they are exporting to, the infrastructure can break down and people will not receive certain goods.
    In this case, I could not imagine going to McDonald's and getting French Fries that are not potatoes. Gross.

  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    1/22/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    I never even thought it was possible to run out of fries, let alone from McDonald's. I guess it makes sense though because McDonald's is such a popular fast food restaurant, they are constantly in need of potatoes.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    1/22/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    How do people just run out of fries? I think that this whole situation probably caused close to a mass hysteria. Everybody knows fries are a signature thing to McDonald's. Not only were the customers probably mad, but the owners were probably mad too because it probably lost them a lot of business.

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