Shift workers, truckies and nightclubbers will be celebrating the return of the energy drink V to the shelves of convenience stores, after a few localised shortages.

That’s being blamed in part on manufacturer Frucor Suntory’s difficulties sourcing the carbon dioxide it needs to give the drink its fizz.

The closure of Marsden Point oil refinery, which made carbon dioxide as a by-product, was well-signalled. But some in the industry say they were caught somewhat by surprise when Todd Energy also reduced production at its gas processing plant at Kapuni gas field in Taranaki, for maintenance.

Since the closure of the Marsden Point refinery at the end of March, Kapuni had become the country’s only commercial supplier of liquid carbon dioxide, including “food grade” carbon dioxide. Todd says carbon dioxide production at Kapuni has been reduced for several months during planned maintenance, which is taking longer than expected and will impact supply through to September.

This week, the chillers of service stations and dairies are well-stocked with V energy drink, but some reported shortages earlier in the month. Frucor spokesperson Sophie Lodge said at no time had the company been unable to supply its V Energy brand to the New Zealand market.

“There is a national shortage of CO2 which is impacting businesses across New Zealand, including those in the beverages sector,” she said. “In the short term we have prioritised our wide variety of SKUs to ensure we can continue to deliver for our customers and consumers.”

“SKUs” is retail industry jargon for the different food and drink products sold by producers; each “stock keeping unit” is distinct, with its own barcode. So for instance, a can of V Original, a can of the new pineapple-flavoured V, or a six-pack of V, would each carry their own SKU.

But Frucor produces other fizzy drinks as well, so it is prioritising the production of its most popular soft drink products – which include V Original, in its familiar bright green can.

Some food and beverage makers in New Zealand, including Coca-Cola, produce or import their own carbon disoxide. But most buy it from wholesalers BOC or Air Liquide, which truck it from Marsden Point and Kapuni.

A spokesperson for Channel Infrastructure, the company that this year shut down its Marsden Point refinery, said they were in regular touch with their direct customers throughout the 18-month strategic review period.

“C02 was a by-product of the refining process,” she said. “With the refinery closure in late March, the supply of C02 from Marsden Point also ceased.  

“Throughout our strategic review, which began in mid-2020, we were in close dialogue with the two local CO2 purchasers of our raw CO2 stream, allowing a significant period of time to enable the industry to transition to alternate sources of supply.”

Nearly a year ago, Energy Minister Megan Woods warned her Cabinet colleagues of the impact of the closure of Marsden Point refinery on supplies of food-grade liquid carbon dioxide for the food and beverage sector, and some water treatment plant. “While there are other potential CO2 sources, including imports, closure of the refinery will challenge the CO2 supply chain – particularly a short lead time to make necessary investments or relocate plant.”

Officials were exploring other options, she said, but the Government has not disclosed what those were.

A Todd Energy staff member, who declined to be identified, said the Kapuni Gas Treatment Plant had become the only domestic source of food-grade CO2 following the closure of Marsden Point.

It was undergoing maintenance. “This planned maintenance, which is critical to ensuring the safe operation of our equipment, has resulted in a brief period of reduced production. Production is expected to return to full capacity when the maintenance work is completed in September.”

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

Leave a comment