Food and beverage companies, such as Tyson and Kraft Heinz, have rushed to find suppliers of the gas, which is used to fizzle drinks and freeze frozen meats and pizzas. Some local breweries have even had to suspend operations at their facilities due to the shortage, which could mean fewer jobs and higher beer prices.
What is causing the carbon dioxide shortage
A number of factors have led to the current situation, but CO2 plant maintenance shutdowns and general summer demand for beverages are the most likely culprits, according to the Brewers Association, a US trading group.
“While many of the market-specific problems are new, CO2 has faced various supply chain challenges since the start of the pandemic,” the Brewers Association said in a statement. “This is one of the many areas where small brewers face cost increases and availability problems.”
Some analysts have also attributed the current hold in part to contamination of the Jackson Dome carbon dioxide pit, an extinct volcano in Mississippi, earlier this summer. Denbury Energy, the owner of the site, attempted to drill new CO2 wells to meet its industrial contracts, but according to Gasworld the CO2 contained contaminants.
Denbury said the contamination was a “minor problem” in a statement to TIME.
“The CO2 produced at the Jackson Dome has been and is produced in compliance with all regulatory requirements and the composition of the CO2 delivered continues to meet contractual specifications,” he said.
“We have worked with some of our customers, such as food and beverage requirements, to address the processing problems that existed in their distribution chains. Our customers are receiving all the CO2 they are demanding ”.
The shortage of drivers is further hampering gas supply, the Brewers Association says, particularly with local delivery. Many of the supply challenges, he says, are worse in the Southeast, but reports of CO2 shortages and quality problems have been reported across the United States since mid-summer.
The Compressed Gas Association, another industry trading group in the United States, doesn’t expect to see any relief until at least October, when scheduled maintenance of industrial CO2 plants is expected to be completed.
Brewers are being crushed
The brewing industry has been particularly hit by the shortage, forcing some smaller breweries to consider rising prices to offset the rising costs and stay in business. Some are also experimenting with alternatives to CO2, such as nitrogen.
“We are constantly using CO2,” Bryan Van Den Oever, owner of the Red Bear Brewing Company of Washington, DC, told TIME. “Our supplier let us know they weren’t hiring new customers … but at some point they might come to us to tell us they can’t meet our needs, which is worrying because beer is our main product.”
“There was a surcharge for all CO2 that our supplier just sent to us recently,” he added.
When Night Shift Brewing in Everett, Mass. Learned that its CO2 supply had been cut for the foreseeable future, twelve employees were told their jobs could be cut as the brewery shifted its production from another source. “Our plan was to continue solving the problems, but this latest CO2 problem has practically thrown a huge breakthrough in any of these plans, even threatening immediate production,” Night Shift Brewing wrote in a published statement. on Facebook in July.
For craft breweries, extra CO2 is often added to the beer during the brewing process, in the tap room to push the beer through the lines to the glasses and when putting the beer into the cans. Van Den Oever says that if the shortage gets worse, his brewery may have to use nitrogen in the fermentation tank instead of CO2, even if that’s the worst case scenario. Nitro beer often has less carbonation, giving it a smoother, creamier texture, meaning IPA and pilsner might have different flavors.
Some larger breweries are able to capture CO2 from their brewery and reuse it, but this is not an option for smaller brewing companies as the equipment is expensive and can take up a lot of space.
Other food and beverage industries are also dependent on CO2
CO2 deficiency doesn’t just impact the brewing industry – gas is commonly used in almost everything we consume. In addition to creating fizz in drinks, it helps to quickly cool foods that will be frozen. Carbon dioxide is even used to make dry ice and can be used for human slaughter of animals.
Fresh meat may also be less available in local grocery stores. The Wall Street newspaper reported that Tyson and Butterball were among the companies affected by the CO2 shortage. Cold cuts, which are stored with CO2 and other gases, could also take a hit. Modified atmospheric packaging eliminates oxygen and pumps CO2 to give products a longer shelf life, but companies like Kraft Heinz have warned retailers of a potential shortage of turkey and mortadella due to the shortage. Kraft Heinz did not respond to a request for comment.
Frozen foods, such as vegetables and pizza, also use CO2 to improve freezing and storage to prevent the growth of bacteria.
For manufacturers who can’t find alternative sources, the next few months could be tough. “Hopefully the shortage will be resolved, but it doesn’t look like that will happen at least during the fall,” says Van Den Oever. “So this is just an ongoing thing that we will deal with.”
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