Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), an American fast-food restaurant chain, topped Twitter trends in Kenya on Tuesday, January 4 after it emerged that the franchise does not use potatoes grown in Kenya in preparing fries for sale.
Kenyans wondered why the fast-food chain imports potatoes from abroad, yet there is a produce surplus in the Kenyan market.
The hash tag “boycott KFC” rose to the topmost spot, with a majority of the at least 2,200 tweets sent out asking for KFC to relook into its potato acquisition policy.
The business had announced on Twitter on Tuesday morning that it had run out of potatoes because “Kenyans loved KFC chips a little too much in December”, causing the shortage.
KFC imports potatoes from Egypt, saying there’s no supplier in Kenya who trades large quantities of pre-cut sliced blanched frozen potatoes.
In an interview with the Business Daily on Monday, KFC chief executive officer for the East African market, Jacques Theunissen, said Kenyan farmers were yet to undergo training on producing potatoes that meet the standards set by the franchise.
“The reason we cannot buy local at the moment is all suppliers need to go through the global QA approval process and we cannot bypass that even if we run out to ensure that our food is safe for consumption by our customers,” he said.
The KFC East Africa boss said the shortage would be resolved by Tuesday, January 4, saying scarcity of potato supply had been occasioned by the Covid-19 crisis.
“It has to do with delays in shipping lines due to the Covid-19 situation. Ships have been delayed for more than a month now, but we are working hard to restore as the first containers are arriving in the port tomorrow (Tuesday, January 4),” Theunissen told Business Daily.
Other KFC meal products including ugali, buns, chicken and coleslaw are however available, the franchise said on Twitter.
The KFC potato shortage comes even as local farmers continue to struggle with an oversupply of the produce.
The farm gate price of the 90kg bag of potatoes has recently hit an all-time low of between Sh450 and Sh600 in Molo, Nakuru County.
Nakuru County, according to the census results of 2019, had the highest number of households that grow potatoes. Other major potato-growing counties include Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kiambu, and Murang’a.
However, according to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), a visualisation tool for international trade data, the main source of Kenya’s imported potatoes is the Netherlands, which supplies nearly 90 per cent of the tuber.
India was the largest source of imported potatoes globally, supplying 10.4 per cent of the food crop.
Potatoes are Kenya’s second most important food crop, after maize. The quantity of potatoes produced in the country decreased to 1.9 million bags last year from two million bags in 2019, official data shows.
However, a decline in effective demand due to job losses saw a kilo of the crop retail at an average price of Sh67.3 last year, a drop of 5.34 per cent from Sh71.1 in 2019.
“People who were eating out find it cheaper to eat from home,” said Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at Tegemeo Institute, a public policy think-tank.
However, the demand for potatoes in fast-food joints surged after the easing of the social distancing rules, peaking in December as Kenyans went for eat outs with friends and families.