Soft drink

Source: Getty Images

Coca-Cola and Pepsi have reportedly been stockpiling gum arabic to mitigate potential supply disruption

British manufacturers are “well stocked” of Sudanese gum arabic, the key ingredient used in soft drinks and sweets such as Coca-Cola and M&M’s, despite fears of supply disruption due to the civil war.

There have been concerns the conflict in Sudan could pose a major threat to the production of carbonated drinks, sweets and even cosmetics, all of which rely on gum arabic – a natural gum that comes from the acacia trees in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

But Food & Drink Foundation members are well stocked and do not foresee any issues in manufacturing their products, a spokesman has told The Grocer.

Just over 70% of the world’s supply of gum arabic comes from Sudan, the continent’s third-largest country which has been engulfed in civil war in recent weeks.

Sudan exported around $111m in gum arabic in 2021, according to OEC data, with top destinations being the UK, France, the US, Germany, and India.

Avoid shortages

Companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have reportedly been stockpiling supplies for months, some keeping up to six months’ worth of gum arabic to avoid shortages.

While Coke has declined to comment, a British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) spokesperson said the sector was not yet worried about supply levels.

“Gum arabic is used in a wide range of manufacturing processes, including for shoe polish, newspaper print and food and drink.

“The product is sourced from a range of countries and there is no sign at present that the alarming situation in Sudan will affect the manufacture of certain soft drinks.”

Gum arabic wholesale prices peaked in December last year, but have remained relatively stable at between 360-380 SDG (Sudanese pounds) per pound over the past few months, Mintec data showed, in signs the market is not yet struggling with demand levels.

However, it is hard to predict the impact – especially for smaller businesses without the same resources as Coke or Pepsi – as there is currently no end in sight to the conflict between the Sudanese army and paramilitary forces that has brought the country’s economy to a standstill.

Road blockages

Reuters has previously reported it has been “impossible” for traders to source additional gum arabic from certain rural areas of Sudan because road blockages have brought logistics services to a halt.

Port Sudan, the country’s key gateway on the Red Sea, is mainly being used to evacuate civilians rather than move product. The same is happening at major Sudanese airports.

The war has already forced major freight companies like Maersk to stop all operations in and out of the country. Earlier this week, the Danish freighter told customers it had ”stopped taking bookings into Sudan for all shipments until further notice”.

Maersk also said customers were struggling to make payments for shipment releases as the banking system from the Central Bank of Sudan was down.