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Coronavirus could have an effect on beer and soda production

Published Apr 20th, 2020 4:36PM EDT
Coronavirus USA

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  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has all sorts of unforeseen consequences, and the latest one concerns the food industry.
  • Beer and soda makers might not be able to procure the CO2 supply needed to make fizzy drinks as a result of the drop in ethanol production.
  • Ethanol is tied to the oil industry, and a drop in gasoline demand during COVID-19 lockdowns has impacted ethanol production.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus has infected millions of people in three months, killing more than 166,000 of them around the world as of Monday morning. COVID-19 fundamentally changed life as we knew it. Jobs, sports, movies, gadget launches, and the ability to go outside at will have all been affected by the new virus.

Because there’s no cure or vaccine, and we have yet to find a treatment that can prevent complications and reduce death rates, social distancing is one of the only tools we have to fight SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 disease. But that’s not enough to save the industries being affected. Even strawberries are in peril, and you can add beer and your favorite flavor of soda to the list of products that may be hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the early days of the novel coronavirus, we saw many memes likening the name of the virus to the beer of the same name. Some people may have mistakenly believed there was a link between them, but then again, some people will just believe anything. That’s not what’s ruining beer during this period, though.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is what threatens your favorite beer and soda, which is becoming harder to find for producers of beer, soda, seltzer water, and certain foods. As Reuters explains, there’s less CO2 to go around because ethanol plants aren’t producing as much. Carbon dioxide is the byproduct of ethanol, which ethanol producers sell to breweries and other companies from the food sector. But ethanol is linked to the gasoline supply, and gasoline demand has dropped as Americans stay home. Gasoline demand has fallen by more than 30%, the report notes.

As a result, ethanol production has slowed as well. 34 of the 45 US ethanol plants that also sell CO2 have idled or reduced output, according to Renewable Fuels Association Chief Executive Geoff Cooper. Furthermore, CO2 suppliers have increased prices by 25% because of the reduced supply. The Compressed Gas Association (CGA) said in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence a few weeks ago that the production of CO2 has fallen about 20% and could drop by 50% by mid-April without relief.

It’s unclear, however, when beer or soda might go missing. National Beverage Corp. told Reuters that it doesn’t anticipate a CO2 supply issue. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and others did not comment on the matter, but Dutch beer maker Carlsberg said they’re “almost self-sufficient” on CO2 needs as they’re making their own.

Then again, doctors have associated alcohol consumption and obesity with COVID-19 complications. Staying away from alcohol and sugary beverages might be a good idea during the pandemic, and in the period that follows. A COVID-19 resurgence is possible in the months ahead, after all. But anything else that requires copious amounts of CO2 might also be hurt in the process. CO2 is used in other sectors of the food industry, as meat producers rely on carbon dioxide during the processing and packaging of products as well as preservation and shipment.

That’s not to say that social distancing measures should be eased anytime soon. Or that life should return to normal without proper guidance from professionals who know what they’re doing. What this does mean is that it will require getting used to other inconveniences in the weeks and months ahead.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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