Ipswich gas supplier describes Co2 shortage as “the perfect storm”

Steve Magnall, chief executive of St Peter’s Brewery

Steve Magnall, chief executive of St Peters Brewery - Credit: Archant

One of the major dispensers of gas in East Anglia has described the biggest shortage of carbon dioxide in a decade as the “perfect storm.”

Isaacs on the Quay. Picture: Gavin King Photography

Isaacs on the Quay. Picture: Gavin King Photography - Credit: Archant

David Cellair, whose company Cellair Ltd has been supplying cellar gas to pubs and restaurants in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridge since 2004, said recent weeks had been “very trying times”.

“There’s a severe shortage of CO2. Sometimes at this time of year, there’s a little bit of a shortage, due to seasonal demands, but this is the perfect storm.”

Mr Cellair, whose company is based in Ipswich, says he is working extremely hard at this time of year “as are all of those in the pub trade”.

“We have had to manage people’s stocks quite tidily to make sure that nobody runs out,” he added.

Carbon dioxide is used to give beer its fizz, carbonate soft drinks and pack products including meat and salad to extend their shelf lives.

But a Europe-wide shortage of the gas has led some retail groups to warn consumers their favourite products may disappear from shop shelves, while some pub groups have admitted to difficulties in restocking.

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“Parts have broken down, and everybody is doing their best to get around it”, said Mr Cellair. “It’s one of those cases that most factories have gone down or are being repaired all at once.

“I like to think that we have hit the bottom of the barrel with this crisis now, but there is always the risk that’s not the case.”

While pubs in the region are still stocked up with enough beer to keep serving, supplies of some brands have been running low.

The Playhouse, a Wetherspoons pub in Colchester, said it had run out of Strongbow Dark Fruits, but were able to provide everything else.

Lewis Belsey, the general manager of Isaacs on the Quay in Ipswich, said it had not experienced shortages yet, because he had been “over-zealous in planning.”

“As a big venue, we have lots of suppliers, and we were warned of potential shortages with soft drinks. But I know that the majority of distributors are struggling with Amstel, Birra Moretti and Britvic,” he said.

Wetherspoon said some pubs were temporarily without draught John Smith’s and Strongbow cider midweek, while Punch Taverns, which has around 1,300 pubs, said it had shortfalls of John Smith’s, Amstel and Birra Moretti.

Independent pubs and smaller breweries said gas suppliers had been limiting stocks and preventing over-buying.

St Peter’s Brewery at Bungay is a large independent, brewing four million bottles a year.

“We have no problem,” said chief executive Steve Magnall. “We managed to get a delivery of CO2, before this started, and we are having a new bottling line put in, so we are stopping bottling for two weeks. We are not affected.

“We only use small amounts on the bottling line.”

The brewery had built up stocks of beer in anticipation of the shut-down. “We were quite fortunate really,” he added.

On the food front, crumpets became the latest casualty yesterday, as Warburtons said it was cutting back production of the snack, with just one of its four factories operating as normal.

However, the East of England Co-op, which has more than 120 food stores in the region, said it was not anticipating problems.

“At this time, we are not expecting to see disruption to stock levels at our stores, however we are continuing to monitor the situation closely with our suppliers,” said a spokesman.

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said CO2 supply issues remained and companies were working hard to source alternatives.

“We are aware of specific pressures in some areas such as carbonated soft drinks, beer, British chicken and British pork, but the majority of food products are unaffected and retailers do not anticipate food shortages. However, it is likely that the mix of products available may be affected.”

The shortages are understood to have been caused by a longer than usual break in production of ammonia, one of the key sources of food grade CO2 in Europe.