Japan's potato supply is recovering as production returns to normal

Potato prices in Tokyo supermarkets are down 10% compared to last year

Japan's potato supply is rebounding -- with wholesale and retail prices falling -- thanks to solid shipments from secondary producing regions starting in the spring.

Potato stocks are 20% higher on the year at Tokyo's Ota market. Shipments began arriving in April from prefectures such as Shizuoka in Japan's main island and Nagasaki in the country's south, areas that experienced solid harvests due to favorable weather this spring. "There isn't a potato shortage at the moment," says Tokyo Seika, Japan's largest fruit and vegetable wholesaler.

Last year's shortage resulted from a series of typhoons that hit the northernmost island of Hokkaido, which produces 80% of Japan's potatoes. Potatoes from Hokkaido currently on store shelves were harvested last fall.

In the first week of July, wholesale potato prices were 10% lower year on year, with 10kg selling for 1,296 yen ($11.30). Retail prices were down too. Potatoes are selling for 60-70 yen apiece at supermarkets in Tokyo, a drop of 10% that reflects the "growing shipments," says Tokyo's Akidai supermarket. Despite the lower prices, sales have been slow.

The supply is expected to get an added boost in mid-July when shipments begin from the eastern prefectures of Chiba and Ibaraki, where the vegetable has grown steadily thanks to rising temperatures from mid-June. Harvests have been solid so far as this year's relatively dry rainy season has kept potatoes from catching diseases.

Hokkaido's potatoes are also expected to make a comeback this year. Last August's typhoons pushed output down 10% from fiscal 2015. Planting has gone well for this fiscal year's harvest, according to the Hokkaido-based Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives.

Supplies for processed goods such as potato chips are also rising. In June, snack producer Calbee resumed sales of some products owing to shipments from regions like the southwestern island of Kyushu.

The company expects Hokkaido's harvest in August to be back up at average levels.