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UK’s biggest wholesaler rations beer and soft drinks as shortage of CO2 continues

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The UK’s biggest food and drink wholesaler has limited beer and soft drink sales to pubs, bars and shops as a CO2 “crisis” continues.

Shortage of the gas used to make drinks fizz has been worsened by increased demand thanks to the World Cup, and the situation could further deteriorate as a heatwave looks set to see temperatures soar to 33C.

Booker, which is owned by Tesco, supplies food and drink to thousands of convenience stores, bars and other businesses across the UK.

Booker said the shortage meant it was “experiencing some supply issues” on soft drinks and beer, adding that it was working to minimise the impact for customers.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said the shortage is a “significant crisis” for the hospitality sector, but said pubs and bars had not yet begun limiting beer sales to consumers.

But she said, “Clearly, venues are going to have to plan very thoroughly if wholesalers are beginning to ration their products.

“Suppliers are working hard to resolve the issue and manage mitigate the impact on venues, but the crisis should not have been allowed to develop to this extent and needs to be swiftly resolved.

“If the shortage in CO2 is not dealt with pretty quickly, then some venues could find themselves facing real trouble,” she warned, adding that safeguards must be implemented to stop the same thing happening again.

Food producers have also been impacted because CO2 is used to prolong the shelf life of packaged meat and fish, among many other applications.

Last week, the British Beer and Pub Association warned that the situation “could continue for at least the next few weeks”. One supplier has already been in contact with their customers to notify them of force majeure.

The BBPA said the CO2 shortage was different from a previous incident in 2015 which affected only the UK, whereas the current problem has hit all of Europe.

It comes as demand for beer and soft drinks has soared thanks to the Royal Wedding followed by hot weather and England’s strong performances so far in the World Cup.

A prolonged shortage will worry retailers who may miss out on much-needed sales if stocks fall further.

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