In Brief

CO2 shortage: crumpets the latest British staple to be affected

Warburtons becomes another casualty of the carbonation crisis

A Europe-wide shortage of carbon dioxide is beginning to hit the UK where it hurts.

Crumpets are the latest British staple to be affected, with Warburtons announcing it will halt production at two out of four of its plants after running out of food grade CO2, which is used to give crumpets a longer shelf life and prevent mould.

The closures will apply to Warburtons' London and Burnley plants, and supplies of CO2 to its Stockton site are intermittent.

The company is the UK's biggest producer of crumpets, reports the BBC, but will no longer be able to fulfil orders. 

“As a result of the ongoing CO2 shortage, we are producing nowhere near the 1.5 million packs of crumpets we usually make each week,” says Tearmh Taylor, corporate and consumer affairs manager at Warburtons.

“This will remain the case until the CO2 supply returns to normal. But rest assured, we are working really hard to keep our products on Britain's shelves.”

Today's announcement comes with the UK already reeling from the news that some JD Wetherspoon pubs have been forced to take John Smith's beer off the menu as pumps - which also rely on CO2 - run dry. Strongbow cider is also at risk, The Guardian reports. 

A spokesperson for the chain said that Heineken, which supplies both beverages, has told them that deliveries would resume “within a couple of days”, meaning at least a temporary reprieve for thirsty punters.

Pub company EI Group, formerly Enterprise Inns, confirmed that it is also experiencing supply problems in some of its 4,500 locations, although it did not elaborate further.

Elsewhere, cash and carry chain Booker, which supplies convenience stores and restaurants up and down the country, “is now rationing customers to 10 cases of beer or five cases of cider” because of the shortage, The Independent reports.

The CO2 crisis coincides with a surge in demand as World Cup revellers put additional pressure on beer supplies.

Brigid Simmonds, head of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said the timing was “unfortunate”

The supply issues even threaten great British BBQ. As well as giving fizzy drinks their fizz, the gas is also used used to pack fresh meat and salads, the BBC reports.

Why is there a CO2 shortage?

CO2 is a byproduct of the process of producing ammonia for use in fertilisers. The gas is then refined by CO2 suppliers until it is “food-grade” and sold on to breweries and soft drink manufacturers.

However, fertiliser production ramps up in late summer, meaning that many ammonia plants schedule maintenance during the spring or early summer - “the peak time for production of soft and alcoholic drinks”, says industry publication Gasworld, which broke the story.

This year, low ammonia prices and the high cost of the natural gas needed to produce ammonia has led several major plants to extend their summer shutdowns - with a disastrous effect on carbonated drinks manufacturers, which are now “desperate” for fizz.

CO2 shortages have been reported across Europe, but the UK - which heavily relies on imports from the continent - is the hardest hit. Only two of the country’s five ammonia plants are currently in operation.

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