SOUTH AFRICA – South African food distributor Hume International claims the country is facing a shortage of French fries due to a shortage of optimal local varieties for producing the fries, and the power cuts, which has been dubbed “load-shedding.”

Fred Hume, managing director of Hume International, is quoted by news24 saying “We have reliably been informed that at least one major local producer is working ‘short time’. Prices are now around three times higher than pre-Covid-19.”

Load shedding is impacting the manufacturing of frozen French fries in SA, causing a shortage at some retailers and restaurants. 

The statement was echoed by McCain, one of the largest producers of frozen French fries in South Africa, said due to load shedding, it cannot process frozen French fries at the usual capacity. The company indicated to News24 that It is aware of shortages at some retail stores.

However, Willie Jacobs, CEO of Potatoes SA notes that there is currently no shortage in volumes of frozen French fries offered to consumers.

“McCain indicated that it experienced some pressure due to potato tuber moth damage, but not due to a shortage in volumes,” says Jacobs. “There are enough potatoes to meet local demand as SA had normal yields during this production season.”

Georg Southey, general manager of Merlog Foods, told Farmer’s Weekly in December that the price of frozen French fries had almost doubled over the past year, from about R16/kg to R30/kg due to the introduction of import tariffs, which, according to him, created a shortage of French fries on the market.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture (WCDoA) and Potatoes SA recently signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to grow the potato industry and increase employment opportunities.

Southey explained: “South Africa does not produce enough of the type of potato used to produce French fries, and [there is not] enough processing capacity to [produce] French fries in the country. Wholesalers, such as myself, therefore have to import frozen chips from other countries so that every small vendor, shisa nyama [outlet], and restaurant can keep French fries on their menus.”

Jacobs stressed that the import tariffs, which amounted to 23% for Belgium, 104% for the Netherlands, and 181% for German suppliers, were necessary to protect the local industry against “dumping.”

In addition, Jacobs said farmers were producing varieties for processing purposes on contract, and these contracts were secured for at least two years in advance, which was the timeframe needed by seed potato producers to supply farmers with tubers of the required varieties.

Jacobs confirmed that the Southern African Customs Union had sufficient capacity to satisfy the region’s demand for frozen chips across all supply chains but said processing plants faced extreme pressure concerning their production capacity due to the failure of infrastructure for the supply of electricity and water.

He highlighted that the potato industry is estimated to contribute at least R6.6 billion to South Africa’s economy and contributes 30% to 50% of the fresh produce turnover in the country.

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