Sudan's War May Take a Surprise Toll on Coke, Pepsi

Fighting threatens the supply of gum arabic, an ingredient vital for soda-makers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 7, 2023 3:55 PM CDT
War in Sudan May Cause Big Problem for Pepsi, Coke
The fighting in Sudan threatens the export of gum arabic.   (Getty/mirzmlk)

The war between two generals in Sudan is threatening to create what the UN calls a humanitarian catastrophe. But big-name manufacturers of everything from soda to chewing gum are bracing for a smaller effect: shortages of a vital ingredient called gum arabic. Rural regions in Sudan produce 70% of the world's supply, reports Reuters, while the Wall Street Journal estimates the figure is even higher, at 80%. The resin is harvested from acacia trees in rural Sudan and helps bind ingredients together. But its unique properties go well beyond that shorthand definition, and there are few substitutes to be had. It's also used in Orbit gum, M&Ms, and countless other products, including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, per the Journal.

"For companies like Pepsi and Coke, they can't exist without having gum arabic in their formulations," Dani Haddad of Agrigum, one of the world's biggest distributors, tells Reuters. Generally speaking, major companies probably have at least a six-month supply on hand, given the instability of Sudan even before the latest fighting. But already, international trade of the gum has essentially come to a halt. While the rural regions where it's produced haven't been affected greatly by the fighting, supply routes through the capital of Khartoum and other large cities can't be used.

"Depending on how long the conflict continues, there may well be ramifications for finished goods on the shelf—branded goods made by household names," says Richard Finnegan Kerry Group, another global supplier to food and beverage companies. Chad and Nigeria also produce gum arabic, though far less than Sudan. A telling sign of how vital it is: When the US imposed sanctions on Sudan in the 1990s, it carved out a loophole for gum arabic, notes the Journal. (More Sudan stories.)

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