The history of today's world fits in a beer bottle.
It is not the most serious of the food shortages that humanity may face in the coming months as a result of the war in Ukraine, but European producers fear that this summer there will be distribution problems or even shortages of certain brands. Beyond the fact that its main raw material, cereal, has become more expensive, the reason lies in the serious difficulties in obtaining glass containers.
The roots of the problem, however, must be sought long before Russia invaded Ukraine, took thousands of lives and skyrocketed the cost of energy and grain. They even precede the arrival of the coronavirus that turned the world economy upside down, forced bars to close and changed the habits of consumers, forced to drink at home. The high concentration of the glass manufacturing market is revealed as the last factor of vulnerability of the European beer industry, especially for small producers, directly affected by the bombing of a factory in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia.
The Huyghe brewery, where the famous Delirium Tremens comes from, has already had to stop its factory in Melle (Belgium) a couple of times for not receiving its bottle orders on time. Although they recover most of the containers they put on the market, they regularly have to renew their stock and a significant part of what they buy comes from Russia. If last year, like all producers, they faced delays in deliveries as a result of imbalances in the global supply chain, this year they have directly encountered cancellations, in addition to sharp price increases derived from the increase in the price of energy.
“We are now in a good situation, we have four million bottles in the warehouse, enough to get us through the next few months, but I am afraid that many colleagues are going to have to stop production this summer”, explained Alain De Laet, CEO of the company. Huyghe brewery, in an interview with the financial daily De Tijd.
The process of mergers and concentrations in the glass manufacturing sector has left the European market in the hands of just four or five producers and has led to the closure of factories in Community territory. Recently, the German company Wiegand Glas has opened another plant in the country, but this increase in production is not enough to compensate for the problems created by the war, nor is it possible to change suppliers all at once, since many brands work with their own specific designs.
France's Verallia, which has a glass container factory in Zorya, eastern Ukraine, halted production in March, as Switzerland's Vetropack had already done. Its plant in Gostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, was affected by fighting with Russian troops at the beginning of the invasion and has not yet been able to resume activity, but has already announced that it will have to lay off two-thirds of its 600 local employees. .
There are no official figures, but according to Laet's calculations, 30% of Belgian beer bottles come from Russia and the Ukraine. The problem goes beyond that. The German Federation of Brewers has called on the population to return the bottles they have at home to recycle them as soon as possible, since now they cost 80% more than a year ago, an unaffordable extra cost for small and medium-sized producers. "There will be a shortage at the latest in the summer, the situation is "extremely tense", said Holger Eichele, its general manager.
Also manufacturers of spirits, wine and champagne have been affected in recent years by packaging shortages. And before the war, in the midst of a pandemic, the World Health Organization warned of problems in obtaining viral vaccines due to problems with the supply of sand, the main component of glass.
Belgian beer lovers living in the plat pays can rest easy; the others, not so much. The national distribution seems guaranteed for this summer, but it is not clear if there will be enough containers for the one destined for export, 70% of the production.