New Zealand’s craft breweries and soft drink makers are facing problems as a lack of carbon dioxide leaves their drinks fizzy.
The temporary shutdown of New Zealand’s only liquid carbon dioxide plant has prompted beer and soft drink makers to cut production at the height of summer and warn of drying up of beverage supplies.
Mark McFarlane, chief executive of owners Todd Energy, said the Caponi plant had been New Zealand’s only producer of food-grade carbon dioxide since March last year, when the country’s other site was permanently closed, but operations were suspended in December due to a problem. Potential safety stopped. While the facility is scheduled to resume production in about a week, it is producing only 30 percent of pre-shutdown levels and will take months to return to full capacity.
CO2 is used to add gas to carbonated beverages, preserve and process many common food products, and for medical purposes. Shortages have caused global chaos in recent years, and New Zealand is the latest country to experience a sudden and devastating shortage.
“It’s a bad situation made a lot worse,” said Jos Raffel, co-founder of the garage project, a craft brewer. His business has produced 64,000 liters of beer, which he cannot package until more CO2 arrives.
“I think at this point we’d probably pay a king’s ransom for someone to deliver the CO2 to us.”
The shortage has forced domestic CO2 distributor BOC to ration supply and prioritize critical medical, safety and water customers, according to the company’s statement.
One soft drink producer said the rationing system was understandable but had created an “unstable” supply chain.
“I ordered four bottles of CO2 today and only received one,” said Marilyn Swee, spokeswoman for Pete’s Natural Sodas, a small producer based in Nelson. “If we can’t bottle the drinks, there’s nothing to do.”
Suy and other beverage makers are filling the gaps with imported CO2, but it’s not easy to come by. It costs more than the domestic product, and delivery times and quantities are subject to uncertain global transportation networks.
Dylan Firth, chief executive of the Brewers Association, which represents about 70 brands, said for those looking to source their seafood now, “it’s very competitive because there’s a shortage in Europe and the US and the UK as well.” Percentage of beer sales in the country.
New Zealand’s smaller market can also make it difficult to compete internationally, especially for independent brewers. “There’s an issue of scale,” Firth said. “They just don’t order the quantities needed to fill an order.”
Firth said brewers held talks with the government this week about long-term solutions for the industry.
Despite the resumption of production at the New Zealand plant, he said: “With limited supply and further shutdowns it is unlikely we will have a major respite.”
The UK government intervened in 2021 to curb the damage caused by the lack of CO2. That crisis caused the government to seek financial assistance from the country’s largest supplier. The UK will once again try to import carbon dioxide in 2022, along with Germany and Italy, due to plant shutdowns and rising costs caused by rising natural gas prices.
A statement from New Zealand’s Department of Business, Innovation and Employment said several agencies were monitoring the shortage and facilitating industry conversations about it. Officials are also in touch with the UK government to learn from the UK experience.
In 2021, 84% of the beer available for consumption in New Zealand was produced domestically.
Ruffell, from the Wellington Garage Project, said the sector needed to invest more in innovation, particularly to develop its capacity to capture and process its own CO2 – and the shortage appeared to have prompted the government to think about it.
“They seem to acknowledge that the CO2 issue is an unintended consequence of moving away from oil and gas, and they don’t want to see certain industries unfairly penalized,” he said.
The brewery is raising the price of its beer in 2022 for the first time since it was founded 11 years ago because the cost of CO2 has “more than tripled”, Ruffel said.
“We don’t really want to do it again because we know people overseas find it difficult,” he added.
The shortage has other New Zealand food producers cautious – from warnings that some chicken products could disappear from supermarkets to predictions of higher tomato prices. Meat and dairy processors have warned, as have exporters who use liquid CO2 for dry ice, which keeps food products fresh in transit.