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Jack in the Box Has a Creative Answer to a Fast-Food Menu Problem

Fast-food restaurants are scrambling in the midst of a surprising problem.

You might not have heard but we are, at this very moment, in the midst of a massive potato shortage. Due to rising temperatures and a string of extreme weather out of Idaho, supply of potato varieties like russett and baker's are down by as much as 35%.

As a result, grocery stores in farmer's markets have been placing limits on the number of spuds a single customer can buy -- one supermarket in West Plainfield, New Jersey is only allowing customers to buy three potatoes at a time.

On top of everything else, potatoes have been subject to the same inflation hitting many common food items. Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that a pound of potatoes costs 8.6% more than it did in 2021 while potato chips average for as much as $5.62 for 16 ounces.

Globally, extreme weather has also led to weaker potato production in countries such as Kenya, India and Japan.

A Potato Shortage On National Potato Day?

That's not good news to hear on August 19 or National Potato Day — a date many fast-food chains have traditionally seen as a marketing opportunity to give out free or heavily discounted French fries.

Burger chain Jack in the Box  (JACK)  has been one of the chains that, for the last few years, has given out free fries on the occasion. This year, however, it is axing the potatoes and instead giving away free egg rolls with any purchase.

The reason, the company told TheStreet, has to do with not wanting to contribute to the potato shortage.

"We're celebrating National Potato Day differently this year due to the shortage of the beloved root vegetable," Morgan Higgins, senior manager of social media & PR at Jack in the Box, told TheStreet in an email. "[...] We welcome the opportunity for potato lovers to give fries a break and celebrate with the deliciousness of our egg rolls."

To take advantage of the offer, customers need to buy something on the chain's website or mobile application and enter "SAVEPOTATOES" into the spot for the promo code.

The deal will be available all weekend from August 19 to 21.

Is The Potato Shortage Really That Serious?

Depending on where you live, you can feel the potato shortage quite acutely or not at all. Earlier this year, Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Kenya took French fries off the menu entirely 

While the Yum! Brands  (YUM) -owned chain tried to joke it away by claiming that its customers "loved our chips [the local term for fries] a little too much," the actual reasons had to do with both a potato virus outbreak and shipment delays due to lingering  supply chain problems. 

In the U.S., the shortage is expected to improve as the weather cools and fall harvests come in, but that doesn't stop restaurants with potato-heavy menus from contemplating either different dishes or introducing price hikes.

"Idaho running low on potatoes makes for a punchy headline, sure, but let's stick to the facts," journalist Ryan Valenzuela wrote for a local Idaho news outlet. "This is nothing like the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845. The Gem State's spud harvest that kicked off last week is expected to significantly improve the situation by Labor Day."