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 corncakes or yuca, a starchy staple of traditional South American cooking. McDonald's is blaming a contract dispute with West Coast dockworkers for halting the export of frozen fries to the country. The dispute also caused several days of french fry rationing in Japan last month—but a spokeswoman for Arcos Dorados, which runs McDonald's restaurants in Latin America, declined to say why Venezuela's neighbors aren't suffering from similar scarcity.
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, costing just 90 cents at the black market rate. McDonald's has likely been grappling with shortages in Venezuela for a while, a market researcher says. And while other countries might be able to adjust to hiccups at the ports by finding alternate solutions like flying in frozen potatoes, the economic problems in Venezuela make these workarounds difficult, if not impossible. (Read more McDonald's stories.)