Shortage Could Take Fizz from Christmas

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK A severe shortage of carbon dioxide used in the production of drinks such as Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta and others could spoil the coming festive season because Christmas parties would likely not have enough of these bubbling drinks to go around. Namibia Beverages, the major bottler of fizzy soft drinks in the country, has confirmed the shortage of the gas normally imported from South African suppliers. Be warned the anticipated shortage may not only affect teetotalers as people who prefer to mix alcoholic drinks such as brandy with Coke would also be in a similar predicament, indeed ending up having a dull Christmas as well. Carbon dioxide suppliers in South Africa are currently experiencing problems and cannot supply the industry with the needed volumes of the gas. The shortage is a result of “production problems” experienced by that country’s largest carbon dioxide producer, Afrox, at its Sasolburg and PetroSA plants. Carbonation in drinks such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, and Sprite creates the “tingly fizz”, giving soft drinks a refreshing taste and the “sparkle and bubble” effect whenever the beverage is poured ready to quench one’s thirst. Yesterday, the Managing Director of Namibia Beverages, Frik Oosthuizen, revealed that the Coca-Cola bottling systems and related industries in Southern Africa are currently experiencing a major shortage of carbon dioxide. With the festive season just around the corner when demand picks, there could be a shortage of brands such as Fanta, Pine, Fanta Grape, Sprite Zero and Tab, among others. Already, the company is only producing the three popular brands, namely, Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite. With the festive season approaching, the situation may worsen. “I have no idea by what percentage carbon dioxide will be available. Production will depend on how much carbon dioxide South Africa will supply to us,” he said. On a monthly basis, Namibia receives 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide from its neighbour but for this month the volume had to be reduced to 20 tonnes or less than half. Oosthuizen says it is not known when the next supply will be received. The gas that is in store at the moment is only likely to last for the next two weeks, he added. “There is no guarantee there will be carbon dioxide. There is no sending schedule for Namibia at the moment,” he said. Oosthuizen however said that the company has a fair amount of stock of especially the core brand soft drinks. Yesterday, Oosthuizen sent letters to the company’s valued customers informing them of the problem in the industry. He appealed to consumers to only order what they would need, adding that any unreasonable order more than what is needed would deplete existing stocks and could lead to supply problems which might lead to some consumers resorting to panic buying and stockpiling the drinks to counter the expected shortages. “Let us work together through this difficult time,” he said. Namibia Beverages normally starts building up stock for these drinks as early as October to be able to cope with the December demand. Due to the problem, the company has not been able to do so. During the December holidays, the demand for soft drinks doubles compared to other seasons in the year. The shortage would have a major financial impact on the entire industry though Oosthuizen could not approximate it in terms of figures, saying all will depend on when full capacity production and supply of carbon dioxide will resume. While carbon dioxide is sourced from Afrox, which is reported to be under capacity, the only place in Namibia that supplies its own carbon dioxide is the Oshakati plant. But this can only produce 10% of this gas, which cannot be shared with Windhoek whose carbon dioxide intake per month is about 50 tonnes. Already last Friday the spokesperson of the South African bottling company Michael Farr made the announcement that lovers of fizzy drinks might have their fizzy drink intake reduced. “The shortages that are expected will be because of demand exceeding full production as it always does in the December period,” he said. South African’s major bottler ABI currently meets between 60% and 70% of the demand. ABI imports about 20 million cans to minimize inconvenience and disruption to its 43 000 customers. However, the carbon dioxide supply chain is only expected to normalize in about two weeks and the supply of fizzy drinks is expected to return to normal only in January 2007.