Pubs and retailers play down fears over stock shortages because of lack of CO2

PUBLISHED: 05:30 30 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:37 30 June 2018

Redwell Brewery is under new ownership.
Head Brewer, Belinda Jennings
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017

Redwell Brewery is under new ownership. Head Brewer, Belinda Jennings Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017


Food and drink firms across Norfolk and Suffolk have moved to reassure customers that a lack of CO2 gas will not lead to stock shortages over the weekend.

Breweries and pubs are hoping CO2 supplies return to normal soon. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoBreweries and pubs are hoping CO2 supplies return to normal soon. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The gas is used to give beer its fizz, carbonate soft drinks and pack products including meat and salad to extend their shelf lives.

But a Europe-wide shortage of the gas has led some retail groups to warn consumers their favourite products may disappear from shop shelves, while some pub groups have admitted to difficulties in restocking.

Wetherspoon said some pubs were temporarily without draught John Smith’s and Strongbow cider midweek, while Punch Taverns, which has around 1,300 pubs, said it had shortfalls of John Smith’s, Amstel and Birra Moretti.

Crumpets became the latest casualty yesterday, as Warburtons said it was cutting back production of the snack, with just one of its four factories operating as normal.

Head brewer Belinda Jennings at Redwell Brewery in Trowse. 
Picture: Sonya Duncan.Head brewer Belinda Jennings at Redwell Brewery in Trowse. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

However, the East of England Co-op, which has more than 120 food stores in the region, said it was not anticipating problems.

“At this time, we are not expecting to see disruption to stock levels at our stores, however we are continuing to monitor the situation closely with our suppliers,” said a spokesman.

Independent pubs and smaller breweries said gas suppliers had been limiting stocks and preventing over-buying.

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said CO2 supply issues remained and companies were working hard to source alternatives, and it did not expect food shortages.

However, concerns have been raised in the poultry and pork industry, where the gas is used to stun animals before slaughter, and to pack the meat.

Mark Gorton of Traditional Norfolk Poultry in Shropham, said not using CO2 on the packing line could reduce the shelf life of the meat by as much as 20%.

CO2 is also used by hospitals to clean and sterilise equipment as well as some invasive surgery procedures and general anaesthetics – though Norfolk’s three hospitals said they had enough stock in place.

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.

Will the pubs still have beer?

The beer is still flowing at pubs in Norfolk – though many have had to swap new drinks in depending on what is available.

With the June heatwave continuing and spirits high on the back of England’s World Cup run, landlords have been plotting to keep cellars full for the coming weeks.

Phil Cutter, landlord at the Murderers in Norwich, said he had swapped Stella 4 in for Amstel, production of which has been hit by the CO2 shortage.

“One of the joys of being a free house is we can choose what we buy in,” he said. “When you’ve got the World Cup and a summer like we have, you can’t afford to be reliant on two or three beers. You have to keep volumes up and in stock.

“This has probably come at the worst time for the pub industry, because we need a decent supply. What you don’t want is to get to the week of the World Cup final and find you’ve got no beer.

What about breweries?

Breweries are also managing supplies carefully to ensure they can keep production up over the summer.

At Norwich’s Redwell Brewery, gas supplies are high enough to last for a week or two.

Head brewer Belinda Jennings said brewing had not been interrupted yet but suppliers were keeping a tight rein on how much CO2 they were selling.

“We only use a small amount of CO2. Maybe the bigger boys don’t have the same relationships with their suppliers,” she added.

As well as to carbonate its beers, Redwell uses the gas to purge oxygen from its tanks during the brewing process, for which nitrogen could be used instead if CO2 production does not return to normal levels.

St Peter’s Brewery near Bungay brews four million bottles a year, but expects to avoid the worst.

“We have no problem,” said chief executive Steve Magnall. “We managed to get a delivery of CO2, before this started, and we are having a new bottling line put in, so we are stopping bottling for two weeks. We are not affected.

“There is no need for anyone to go without a beer,” he said.

What’s behind it all?

The shortfall in supplies of CO2 was first brought to mainstream attention last week, after an unexpectedly long break in production of ammonia, used to produce the gas in Europe.

The ammonia comes from fertiliser plants, which often shut down for maintenance during the summer, as

demand for fertiliser peaks in winter.

The UK has been hit particularly hard, with only one of its five major CO2 plants operating early last week. Imports from the continent have also been low because of shutdowns in France and the Benelux countries.

Trade journal Gas World has described the shortage as the “worst supply situation to hit the European carbon dioxide business in decades”.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said brewers were “working their socks” off to ensure the beer continued to flow.

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