The shortage occurred late last month (June) due to an ammonia production issue coupled with plant maintenance. The issue affected the soft drinks, meat, brewing and food packaging sectors, with supply issues reported.
Although some CO2 plants have resumed production, the next couple of weeks are expected to be disruptive for food businesses as they get supply back on track.
A Food & Drink Federation spokesperson said: “We understand that a number of the plants which were down due to maintenance or repair have now resumed CO2 production. However, due to the length of supply disruption, we believe we are likely to see an ongoing impact on the choice of food and drink products available to consumers. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and hope to be able to establish when normal service will resume.”
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA), expressed concern over supply priorities. “I’m receiving multiple reports from meat industry companies that CO2 suppliers are allowing a bidding war to break out amongst their customers, with only the biggest companies that have the deepest pockets able to compete for scarce gas supplies.”
He added: “There have been instances of meat industry firms dispatching trucks, at vast expense, into Europe to source gas cylinders from smaller CO2 suppliers to keep factories rolling, but at a much-reduced capacity”.
Allen warned that the meat industry was particularly at risk from future CO2 shortages. “It has become clear that CO2 plays a critical part in the food and drink manufacturing process and businesses can grind to a halt if they cannot secure an adequate supply. Some meat industry companies simply don’t have an alternative method of production that doesn’t rely on CO2, and re-configuring their plants is not an option. This means that companies are already closing production lines and asking staff not to turn up to work, impacting people’s salaries and putting pressure on company finances.”
Several drinks suppliers such as Coca-Cola and Heineken were impacted by the shortage, leading to some retailers rationing supplies to customers.
The CO2 shortage had temporarily affected the bakery sector, with Warburtons suspending crumpet production at its Enfield and Burnley sites. Production has since resumed. Tearmh Taylor, corporate and consumer affairs manager at Warburtons, said: “After a tricky couple of weeks, we have finally received a supply of C02 and production has returned to normal at all sites. We will be back on Britain’s shelves this week, ready for our customers to enjoy.”