Pubs and brewers in East Anglia face anxious wait as CO2 shortage threatens World Cup beer supplies
PUBLISHED: 12:18 21 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:11 21 June 2018
Pubs, breweries and drinks makers in East Anglia say they are "monitoring the situation" after warnings that CO2 shortages could see the UK run out of beer and fizzy drinks ahead of a weekend of World Cup festivities and summer barbecues.
The shortages are understood to have been caused by a longer than usual break in production of ammonia, one of the key sources of food grade CO2 in Europe – which is used to carbonate drinks and preserve some packed fresh foods.
East Anglian brewers and drinks makers including Britvic and Adnams have said they have not yet been affected but are monitoring the situation closely, while Wetherspoon admitted a continuing shortage could hit its pubs.
Trade journal Gas World said the shortage had been described as the “worst supply situation to hit the European carbon dioxide (CO2) business in decades”.
The UK was hit particularly hard as only one major CO2 plant was operating earlier this week and imports from the continent had been affected by shut-downs in Benelux and France.
It said many consumers of CO2, especially carbonated drinks producers, were desperate for supplies of the product, and the shortage appeared to be likely to continue for the remainder of June “at least”.
Victoria MacDonald, who runs Norfolk pubs the Cellar House in Eaton, Old Ram in Tivetshall St Mary, White Lodge in South Norfolk and The Buck Inn in Thorpe St Andrew, said she had encountered problems placing an order on Thursday, but had enough supplies to last for at least a week.
“We can get Heineken but it seems like there’s no Amstel and no Birra Moretti,” she said.
“I need to speak to Enterprise [Inns] as I’m sure they’ll be working with us to get an answer soon.”
Phil Cutter, landlord of the Murderers in Norwich’s Timberhill, said he thought the crunch would come in around three weeks.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem during the World Cup, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens afterwards,” he said.
“You need gas to push through the pumps and lines. You can run a pub even without electricity for a while, but without gas, change or beer, you’re going to find it difficult.”
Mr Cutter also warned that fears about supply could lead to bulk-buying, which would then make supplies scarcer.
He added that pubs would be likely to fall back on their relationships with suppliers in the coming weeks, calling in favours where possible.
Alec Williamson, who runs Calvors Brewery near Needham Market in Suffolk, said he had around three weeks’ worth of supplies of CO2 but had never encountered the problem before in a decade of trading.
“I understand that the manufacturers of a few facilities are being shut down for maintenance at the same time. Doing that at the same time as the World Cup is on seems ridiculous to me,” he said.
“We don’t have any contingency plans yet, but we could move more to more real ale production over lager. I’m surprised that a big brewer like Heineken has this issue. They should have a recovery system in place to counter the problem.”
Lee Saunders, landlord of the White Horse pub in Rede Rd, Whepstead, said he had a bottle of CO2 left which he expected would last another two weeks.
“The problem is that CO2 powers all of our pumps so without it, we can’t pump the beer, including ale, from the barrels to the bar,” he said.
“Not all pubs will be affected in that regard, as some use electric compressors, but it will affect a lot of pubs.”
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “We are aware of a situation affecting the availability of CO2 across Europe, which has now started to impact beer producers in the UK.
“We have recommended our members to continue to liaise with their providers directly where they have concerns over supply.
“We will continue to monitor the situation carefully. However, given the time of year and the World Cup, this situation has arisen at an unfortunate time for the brewing industry.”
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A spokesman for Britvic, which has a factory in Norwich, referred to the industry-wide statement from the British Soft Drinks Association.
“The shortage of CO2 across Northern Europe is impacting a wide range of businesses across the food and drink sector,” it said.
“Soft drinks producers in the UK are taking active steps to maintain their service to customers including working with their suppliers to mitigate the impact as well as looking at alternative sources.”
Southwold brewer Adnams said it was aware of the situation but did “not envisage any issues with supply to our customers”.
“We currently have good stocks of both packaged and keg products. We will of course keep monitoring the situation, and are in contact with our CO2 suppliers,” said a spokesman.
A Heineken spokesman said the company was working hard to resolve the shortage and trying to minimise disruption to other businesses.
Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “We are fully aware of the situation. At present none of our pubs have been affected and are offering their full range of drinks.
“We are monitoring the situation closely with our suppliers in order to minimise any disruptions that might occur. We are aware that the situation might get worse and if it does there could be shortages in pubs and other hospitality outlets.”
Bumper weekend ahead
The shortages come as many prepare to celebrate in pubs and at home as they follow England’s progress in the football World Cup in Russia.
Retailers are also expecting sales of alcohol and soft drinks to be boosted by forecasts of a hot summer running through until August.
Tesco’s website is showing that a number of carbonated drinks, including own-label and Schweppes lemonade and Dr Pepper, is “currently unavailable”, but a spokesman said it was unrelated to any CO2 shortage.
Concerns over meat
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) also said it was “very concerned” about the shortage, as CO2 is used in packing fresh meat and salads.
BMPA deputy director Fiona Steiger said: “We are getting very concerned. It’s different for every member. Anyone who uses CO2 will have individual contracts with suppliers, and each supplier has different amounts.
“Supply is running out and it’s pretty tight for some people. Others hope to be able to see it out.
“We don’t know when supplies will be back up. We’ve been told it could be about a month.”