CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Fast food lovers in shortage-plagued Venezuela are enjoying greasy French fries at McDonald's franchises once again after the side dish went missing last winter.
McDonald's rolled out the fries' comeback on Monday with an ad campaign including a countdown on social media and large banners inviting customers to swap their fried yuca, a root crop also known as cassava, for the real thing.
Office workers in line to buy lunch at franchise in downtown Caracas eagerly asked one another if the fries were really back as they waited to make their orders.
"The customers have been coming in really excited. But when we tell them the price, not so much," cashier Yefferson Romero said.
While fries used to cost the same as any other side, they're now about 20 percent more expensive than the starchy yuca alternative. And ordered on their own rather than in a combo, they cost nearly as much as a basic McDonald's hamburger here. The fries cost 64 cents at Venezuela's black market rate, but $79 at the strongest of the country's several official rates.
Venezuela's widespread and worsening shortages are driven in part by the country's tight currency controls, which make it hard to get dollars for imports. Potato imports fell 85 percent in 2014, before McDonald's took fries off the menu at its more than 100 Venezuela locations in January.
The company was able to bring the fries back this month by sourcing potatoes locally, according to Sonia Ruseler, an Argentina-based spokeswoman for Arcos Dorados, which runs McDonald's restaurants in Latin America.
Some customers speculated Tuesday that the timing was suspect. Venezuela is four weeks away from hotly contested national elections in which the ruling socialist party may suffer its first major electoral defeat. The government has been implementing a number of policies in recent weeks to please consumers, including forcing retailers to lower prices.
Rival Burger King has passed the year reminding patrons that they still have a full range of sides, while administration officials from President Nicolas Maduro on down have made jabs at the company that has become the ultimate symbol of U.S. capitalism, suggesting its Happy Meals lack nutrition and trumpeting the virtues of yuca.
Ruseler was careful to note that the returned fries are not the same as the original. Instead, McDonald's is branding them as a "new flavor, specially made in Venezuela."