A butterfly flapping its wings in the South American rainforest will cause a hurricane in Texas two weeks later, this is the inference of meteorologists. However, an armed conflict in Sudan, an African country, may lead to the outage of carbonated beverages such as cola. Such a “butterfly effect” is really happening in the current world.
A recent Reuters article pointed out that currently 70% of the world’s gum arabic comes from Sudan. Affected by the continuing armed conflict in the country, Coca-Cola and other major soft drink manufacturers will not be able to purchase it in the short term—and it happens to be indispensable in the production of soft drinks. raw material.
In terms of proportion, “gum arabic” is inconspicuous in carbonated drinks, and is even classified as food flavor/food coloring in most ingredient lists, and it will not be clearly marked separately. But it is such an “unnamed” additive that can make the carbon dioxide in the soda more stable, and it is the hero behind the refreshing and “sandy” taste of the soda.
The acacia tree that produces Coca-Cola’s ingredient is an icon of the African savannah
For such an important raw material, it is impossible for the beverage giants not to stock up, but after all, the sales volume of Coke is too large, and the current global inventory of gum arabic can last for about half a year. This also means that if the situation in Sudan does not ease within half a year, and manufacturers such as Coca-Cola do not plan to temporarily adjust the formula, Coke and other beverages may not be able to be produced for a period of time.
Albizia tree wound
Like Arabic numerals, they do not originate in Arabic. Although gum arabic also bears the name of “Arabia”, its main origin is not in today’s Arabian region, but in Africa, especially in Sudan.
As early as thousands of years ago, gum arabic was added to spices. Later, along with the trade of the Arabs, it ran through the Silk Road, from Arab ports such as Alexandria and Jeddah to the world, so it was dubbed “Arabia” by outsiders.
In fact, gum arabic is the gum of the acacia tree. This kind of tree mainly grows in the drier grassland areas of Africa, and is distributed in Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania and other countries, forming a “Gum Belt” that stretches for about 500 miles (about 800 kilometers) from east to west, among which Sudan most concentrated in the Sahel region.
For most people, the name of acacia may be unfamiliar, but in familiar documentaries such as “Animal World”, this kind of tree that looks like a yellow cloud from a distance has basically become the symbol and symbol of the African grassland .
Mussels become pearls when they are diseased, and when a tree is “sick”, it will produce gum to promote the healing of the “wound” of the tree. When an acacia tree is “wounded,” it secretes gum arabic. Since this colloid is a hydrophilic macromolecular polysaccharide, it has many application scenarios in the food industry.
For carbonated beverages, gum arabic provides complex effects from bubbles to mouthfeel. After the hydrophilic gum arabic is dissolved in carbonated beverages, it can not only form a viscous substance similar to glue, which is used to connect and fix the carbon dioxide in the beverage so that they are not easy to dissipate, but also can reduce the surface tension of the liquid, allowing cola The air bubbles contained in the cola “float” to the liquid surface, ensuring that before consumers taste the taste of cola, they first experience the strong and dense air bubbles.
Coke lovers should have heard of the “Coke Fountain” experiment, that is, put the bead-shaped Mentos candy into the cola, and the cola will immediately turn into a fountain, but if it is replaced with other compressed mints, this experiment may not Unable to succeed, the principle is related to gum arabic.
In the production process of Mentos sugar, gum arabic and gelatin with similar effect are added. When a large amount of gum arabic is added to cola, the originally relatively stable bubbles will naturally become “restless” and finally spew out.
In terms of taste, the dissolved gum arabic can increase the thickness of carbonated drinks, which can not only make the drinks drink more smoothly, but also help the sugar-free cola to create a “hanging cup” state like adding sugar.
In addition to carbonated beverages, other categories in the food and beverage industry also favor acacia gum. Not only can it be used as a high-quality anti-crystallization agent, it is widely added to various hard candies to prevent the precipitation of sucrose crystals, but it can also provide gummy candies with a Q-bomb and chewy taste.
It can not only be added as a stabilizer to ice cream to prevent the precipitation of ice crystals, but even behind the famous chocolate advertising slogan “does not dissolve in the hand, only dissolves in the mouth”, there is gum arabic.
The current global inventory of gum arabic can last for about half a year.
Acacia Gum, Gum Arabic
Coca-Cola “Fountain Experiment”
In China, according to GB 2760-2014 “National Standards for Food Safety-Standards for the Use of Food Additives”, gum arabic can be used in the processing of dozens of foods such as carbonated beverages, modulated milk, and puffed foods.
break the balance of supply and demand
In the 1990s, the United States added Sudan to its list of sponsors of terrorism. In 1997, the then U.S. President Clinton announced that he would impose asset freezes, trade embargoes and other sanctions against Sudan, which officially opened the prelude to the 20-year-long U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan.
But gum arabic, Sudan’s main export, was exempted in the sweeping sanctions. This is not because the US government is merciful, but because carbonated drinks are too popular, especially because American consumers cannot do without soda, and gum arabic is difficult to be replaced by other similar substances in soda.
Such absurd fact also reflects Sudan’s monopoly position in the international trade market of gum arabic from the side. According to a research report by the French Development Agency, Sudan’s acacia trees cover an area of about 500,000 square kilometers (about the same area as Sichuan Province in China), and the country’s gum arabic accounts for about 70% of the global supply.
For giants such as Coca-Cola, over-reliance on Sudan’s gum arabic export supply is tantamount to putting all eggs in the same basket. On April 15, the already fragile supply-demand balance was instantly broken with the sound of fierce gunfire in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
According to the United Nations agency International Organization for Migration, as of May 9, the armed conflict between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces has displaced 700,000 people in the country.
Under the chaos, it is inevitable that all businesses will wither. Sudanese ports that used to ship gum arabic are now being used to evacuate civilians, and buyers and sellers do not know when things will return to normal, according to 12 exporters, suppliers and distributors interviewed by Reuters.
Objectively speaking, gum arabic is not irreplaceable. Carrageenan, gelatin, locust bean gum, guar gum and other colloids similar to gum arabic can be regarded as “substitutes” for gum arabic to varying degrees. Some industries that are not highly dependent on gum arabic, such as candy and ice cream Etc., it also works in the same way.
But for beverages such as Coca-Cola, this solution is not easy to implement. As the saying goes, a small ship is easy to turn around, and the larger the company, the easier it is to “seek stability”. When the size is as large as Coca-Cola, even a seemingly small adjustment will affect the complete production line and supply chain, which is bound to be a long process and expensive. Not cheap.
In February of this year, Coca-Cola announced that its 2022 profit was better than industry expectations. This is especially rare in the context of inflation in many European countries and households continuing to cut food expenditures.
The price that is stable all year round and almost everyone can afford is the key to the continued sales of Coke in the context of inflation. Once the price of Coke increases due to the replacement of gum arabic, it will inevitably affect its sales.
In terms of taste, the taste and taste that have remained unchanged for decades are important labels of Coca-Cola. Any slight change in taste may surprise consumers and affect word of mouth.
Therefore, finding new sources of gum arabic as soon as possible may be the top priority for beverage giants. A gum arabic importer and exporter told Reuters in an interview that its corporate clients are actively purchasing gum arabic from other countries to cope with the immediate shortage.
In the long run, the sustainable development of the gum arabic industry will benefit both upstream and downstream enterprises and even consumers. Compared with the sudden turmoil, Sudan’s weak economic and industrial base and irreversible climate change may be the biggest “enemies” for the upgrading of the gum arabic industry.
Different from hard currency resources such as petroleum and minerals, the added value of gum arabic is relatively limited. Therefore, even though it accounted for 80% of the world’s gum arabic production at its peak, Sudan has not been able to achieve the same level as some resource-based countries. Even short-term prosperity.
According to the Central Bank of Sudan, the export of collagen arabic gum is one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange income. However, due to the poor foundation of Sudan’s food industry, gum arabic is mostly exported in the form of “raw gum” without processing or rough processing, which further reduces the The practitioner’s profit.
The current plight of the gum arabic industry in Sudan is not only a natural disaster, but also a man-made disaster.
Sudanese ports that once shipped gum arabic are now being used to evacuate civilians. The picture shows foreigners evacuated from Port Sudan on May 14
The food giant Kerry Group estimates that the global annual output of gum arabic is about 120,000 tons, and the estimated market price is 1.1 billion US dollars (about 7.65 billion yuan). According to statistics from the agricultural technology platform Tridge, the amount of gum arabic exported from Sudan in 2021 is only $110 million. Comparing several sets of data, the plight of Sudanese farmers can be seen.
A gum arabic producer told Al Jazeera that young people are not interested in collecting gum arabic, preferring more dangerous but lucrative jobs such as miners or construction workers.
In response to this, in recent years, Sudanese companies have begun marketing gum arabic as a superfood. Locals believe that gum arabic strengthens the immune system and aids in the absorption of vitamins and minerals—and indeed Sudanese use it to treat joint pain and common ailments.
However, such a propaganda that obviously violates medical common sense, once it leaves the local area, naturally not many consumers will buy it.
As early as 2010, the Sudanese Ministry of Finance promised to support the development of gum arabic-related enterprises and provide guidance including production, finance, and operation. However, the political situation in the country is not stable, and the relevant assistance has not seen obvious results.
Even more serious is the climate problem. Sudan is one of the countries most affected by global warming. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, temperatures in areas such as Kordofan, Sudan, have recorded a record rise of nearly 2 degrees Celsius in less than 30 years, more than double the global average.
For Sudan, which is drought-prone and prone to desertification, the acacia tree, which is drought-resistant and can improve soil fertility, is a gift from heaven. However, the high temperature has made the growth of acacia trees increasingly difficult, and the output of gum arabic per hectare has dropped sharply from 7-8 bags in the 1990s to 1-2 bags in 2007.
In recent years, only half of the trees in some states of Sudan can be used for gum collection, and the government has to distribute a large number of acacia seedlings to farmers for free.
The current plight of the gum arabic industry in Sudan is not only a natural disaster, but also a man-made disaster. In the face of the natural and silent resistance and the continuous conflicts in other countries, there is very little we can do. We hope that the turmoil will subside as soon as possible, and Sudan can get out of the gloom as soon as possible.
Of course, Coke lovers around the world don’t need to rush to stock up. After all, companies such as Coca-Cola must be more anxious than consumers. The probability of not being able to drink Coke or the price of Coke soaring is not very high.