Potato Supplies Stalled by Train Delays
Some fast food restaurants and potato chip makers are being forced to source their spuds elsewhere.
By now, you're probably used to seeing stories on all sorts of food shortages: In 2017 alone, we've discussed shortages or potential shortages of vanilla, chicken wings, maple syrup, pine nuts, Darjeeling tea, grasshoppers, and legal marijuana! (Those may or may not be listed in order of importance.) All these low supplies stem from a wide variety of issues: bad weather, high demand, labor troubles. But a potential shortage on a couple of beloved potato products stems from an problem you may have thought we stopped worrying about a century ago... the trains not running on time.
Ongoing issues with the freight-train company CSX Corp is having surprising ramifications for some of America's major fried potato products, according to the Wall Street Journal. In March, the struggling railroad business brought in a new president and CEO, Hunter Harrison, in the hopes that, as he has done for other freight-train brands, he can turn things around. But in an effort to make CSX, one of only two major railroad operators east of the Mississippi, more efficient, delivery times have actually been significantly slowed—with the Rail Customer Coalition even stating that CSX is putting "the health of our nation's economy in jeopardy."
Harrison called that characterization "exaggerated," but if you love chips and French fries, you may think otherwise. Two of the products cited as being impacted by the rail slowdown are McDonald's French fries and Pringles potato chips. Pringles' maker Kelloggs has had to get cooking oil shipped by truck because of a shortfall caused by the lack of efficient train service. Meanwhile, trucks are also the only reason Nashville, Tennessee, area McDonald's are able to receive their regular supply of frozen fries. Thankfully, "we have contingencies in place to ensure there is no disruption in our supply," a spokeswoman told the WSJ.
And it's not just the world of potatoes that is affected in the food industry. Poultry farmers are complaining about a lack of feed, and big brands like PepsiCo and Kraft are also unhappy. Still, Harrison suggests it will all be okay soon. "Shortly after Labor Day, you'll see things return to what we call normal," he said. Let's hope so: People get angry when they don't get their fries.