The local manufacturers of Coca-Cola have moved to assure customers that they won’t run out of Northern Ireland’s favourite drink any time soon.
heir confidence is in stark contrast to that of the British Soft Drinks Association, who claimed that UK manufacturers have “only a few days” of carbon dioxide left to produce fizzy drinks.
The association also warned that, due to Brexit, producers cannot import supplies of CO2 from the European Union.
But – due to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol – Coca-Cola HBC, based at the Lissue Road in Lisburn, will continue to deliver 39% of the soft drinks sold in the region.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Knockmore Hill plant, told the Belfast Telegraph that there was no risk to the continuing supply.
“Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland is not experiencing any risks to its CO2 supply,” they said.
“We also have robust contingency measures in place and do not expect any disruption to production.”
An industry insider, meanwhile, told this newspaper that the Protocol, which has caused issues in other areas and has led the DUP to threaten bringing down Stormont, has allowed Coco-Cola to “trade seamlessly” with other EU countries.
“Unlike the rest of the UK, buyers for the company haven’t had any trouble securing CO2,” he said.
“Part of the issue in Great Britain is Brexit-related therefore there has been no disruption to production locally.”
The company is also understood to have a robust supply network in place.
In addition, there are effective contingency plans in existence for them and their southern counterparts, HSB Ireland based at Cappagh Road, Dublin.
Coca-Cola HBC’s Northern Ireland portfolio consists of the ‘traditional’ Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Fanta and Sprite, which cumulatively delivers 69% of carbonate sales here.
They also supply Deep RiverRock fizzy water and other brands such as Fruice, Appletiser, and BPM and Relentless energy drinks.
A survey in 2019 showed that Coca-Cola was the most popular beverage in Northern Ireland, with 18% of those who consumed soft drinks preferring it.
Then came Sprite (7%), Fanta (6%), and Pepsi (5%).
Irn-Bru (3%) was, not surprisingly, Scotland’s favourite soft tipple on 23% – and also one of the products severely hit by the widespread shortage of CO2 which is causing shockwaves in GB’s food and drink sector.
Most carbon dioxide suppliers aren’t scheduling deliveries any earlier than 24 hours in advance, meaning manufacturers have no visibility on stock levels or when they’ll receive their next batch.
The UK – with the exception of Northern Ireland – cannot rely on imports from Europe as a huge Dutch plant it sources CO2 from, is prioritising its EU clients.
Supplies of CO2 in GB were hit after fertiliser giant CF Industries Holding Inc responded to a huge hike in natural gas prices by closing its British plants that make carbon dioxide as a by-product.
The knock-on effect on the food and drink industry has been sudden and dramatic, as CO gas is used in so many different ways.
Apart from stunning pigs and chickens for slaughter, CO2 also extends the shelf life of products.
Breweries producing bottled and canned beers also face similar disruption to the soft drinks industry.
Q Why are CO2 supplies under threat?
A The spike in natural gas prices has prompted two huge UK fertiliser plants to pause production, leading to a shortage of carbon dioxide which is a by-product of fertiliser manufacture.
Q Why is CO2 shortage a problem for the food and drink industry?
A It is used to stun pigs and chickens in a humane way prior to slaughter. It is also used in packaging to help extend the life span of bread, meat, fresh food, beer and fizzy drinks.
Q Why did gas prices jump?
A There has been a supply shortage across Europe, with lower than expected levels of natural gas coming from Russia. Europe also has lower levels of gas in storage after last Winter, combined with a surge in demand from businesses reopening after the pandemic. Apart from that, there has been a lower than usual output from the UK’s wind turbines.
Q Has this happened before?
A Yes. Three years ago there was a temporary closure of fertiliser plants, leading to a shortage of CO2 in the UK during the summer. For a short time, it threatened a shortage of beer during the 2018 football World Cup.