Heineken’s Amstel and Smiths beer hit by CO₂ supply shortage

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Four friends sitting at a pub table drinking a pint of beer..
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Supplies of Heineken’s John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Amstel kegs have been hit by an industry-wide shortage of carbon dioxide.

The CO₂ shortfall is leaving beer and soft drinks makers high and dry just as the World Cup and barbecue season get under way.

Seasonal manufacturing shutdowns have left the UK with only one big plant producing CO₂.

Heineken said it was “working with customers to minimise disruption”.

But the Grocer magazine reported that Heineken had written to pubs limiting the amount they can order of the affected lines.

“We’ve been informed by our CO₂ supplier that they are facing a major issue with supply availability in the UK,” Heineken confirmed in a statement.

Wetherspoons pub chain said that while it had not had any supply issues yet, “that is likely to change in the coming days, and it’s not likely to get any better.

“There might be some products we don’t have available and if it affects Wetherspoons, then it will affect everyone else.”

‘Desperate’

Demand for beer and fizzy drinks is peaking as fans gather to watch the football, thanks to the recent run of hot weather.

Carbon dioxide doesn’t just put the fizz into soft drinks, canned and bottled beers. It also delivers beer at the pub pumps and is additionally used to pack fresh meat and salads.

It comes from ammonia plants that manufacture fertiliser. But as demand for fertiliser peaks in winter, manufacturers often shut down during the summer for maintenance work.

Currently at least five CO₂ producers across northern Europe are offline for maintenance, according to trade publication Gasworld, which first reported the issue.

Gasworld said carbonated drinks producers were now “desperate” amid the worst CO₂ supply crisis for decades.

Beer stoppages

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), which represents brewers and 20,000 UK pubs, said the CO₂ shortage was beginning to cause stoppages in beer production, although it did not name specific companies.

As much as 82% of beer consumed in the UK is produced here, requiring carbon dioxide, according to Brigid Simmonds, head of the BBPA.

Ms Simmonds said she had written to CO₂ suppliers and one producer had said it would be able to get limited production back on stream at the beginning of July.

“You could have foreseen this. We’ve got the World Cup, which is as exciting in Germany as it is here,” said Ms Simmonds

“Quite why they didn’t anticipate this, I don’t know.”

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Media captionAre we in for a beer shortage this summer?

The BBPA has also issued some guidance to its members reminding them that CO₂ used in drinks, including for dispensing beer at the pumps, must be food grade CO₂.

“We’d be concerned this is not the time to go looking for a white van man who says they can supply you with CO₂,” she said.

Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, said soft drinks producers were “taking active steps to maintain their service to customers”.

Coca Cola European Partners’ spokesperson said the company was responding to what was an “industry-wide issue” by focusing on “limiting the effect this may have on the availability of our products”.

The drinks giant said it was currently able to fulfil orders to customers and was working with suppliers, partners and customers “on a number of solutions”.

‘Hardest hit’

The UK is particularly hard hit by the shortages, according to Gasworld, because only one major CO₂ plant is still operating and imports from the European mainland have been affected by shutdowns in northern Europe.

The UK is a large market for carbon dioxide and imports about a third of its CO₂ needs. It has a vast range of applications in industry, with one of the main uses being the manufacture of dry ice to chill airline meals.

The UK has a number of plants that produce CO₂, but three of the four largest are currently down for maintenance or technical reasons.

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Carbon dioxide has a range of uses including packaging fresh food

Gasworld said the heatwave in May had boosted demand for fizzy drinks across northern Europe at a time when ammonia plants producing CO₂ as a by-product were closed. The current low price of ammonia meant producers were not restarting production quickly.

Carbon dioxide production also comes from bioethanol plants, and as a by-product from whisky distilleries in Scotland. But these tend to be on a smaller scale and one UK bioethanol plant is also currently closed.

While there were ready supplies of carbon dioxide in southern Europe, including Hungary and Romania, transporting it to northern Europe required specialist pressurised transport, Gas World said.

‘Prioritise meat’

The Grocer also reported stark warnings from the British Poultry Council (BPC) that up to 60% of poultry processing plants could be knocked out “within days” as a result of the CO₂ shortage.

CO₂ is used to stun and ultimately suffocate poultry in many slaughterhouses.

The Grocer said nine of the UK’s largest poultry plants were facing a critical shortage of the gas, which could lead very quickly to a halt in slaughtering and a knock-on effect on animal welfare as birds are left longer on the farms.

BPC chief executive, Richard Griffiths, said that with the supply of CO₂ tightened across Europe, the British Poultry Council was calling on the government and major gas producers to “prioritise supplies to slaughterhouses and keep the food chain moving”.

“We are assessing what the possible impact on food supply might be, and BPC members are working hard to minimise the effect,” he added.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) also said it was “very concerned” about the shortage.

BMPA deputy director Fiona Steiger said: “Supply is running out and it’s pretty tight for some people.

“We don’t know when supplies will be back up. We’ve been told it could be about a month.”

She said the BMPA was asking officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to prioritise meat producers when finding back-up supplies of CO₂.

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