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05 May 2023

Key Ingredient in Coca-Cola, Chocolate and Red Wine Is Caught Up in Sudan Crisis

Key Ingredient in Coca-Cola, Chocolate and Red Wine Is Caught Up in Sudan Crisis

The conflict in Sudan has disrupted the supply of a little-known but crucial ingredient in soft drinks, chocolate bars, red wine and many other products, sparking concerns over shortages later in the year.

The deadly power struggle between the East African nation’s top generals has claimed over 500 lives, left thousands injured and displaced many more. A lesser consequence of the fighting has been to choke the supply of gum arabic—80% of which is produced by Sudan’s acacia trees. 

The tasteless and odorless dried sap is often used as a stabilizer, thickening agent and emulsifier. Tiny amounts of it are added to some of the world’s most popular consumer products, including Coca-Cola, M&Ms and Orbit chewing gum, as well as cosmetics and many pharmaceutical products.

The fighting that erupted in Sudan on April 15 has frozen trade of raw gum arabic both within Sudan and across its borders, traders say. Immediate supply isn’t in danger, and companies that depend on the product usually keep large stockpiles outside Sudan, but traders say prices for the substance have already shot up.

“The concern is if we run out of gum, then we run out of business,” said Osama Idris, general manager at Morouj Commodities UK, a raw-gum importer and processor based in Weston-super-Mare. “We luckily have stocks in the U.K. so we’ll keep running, but if war continues for a year, that will be an issue.”

The fighting between Sudan’s military, commanded by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, a state-sponsored military led by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has driven nearly half a million Sudanese from their homes. The battle in the capital Khartoum has been particularly fierce and a series of cease-fires promised by the two generals have failed to hold.

Mohamad Alnoor, owner of Falls Church, Va.-based Gum Arabic USA, which imports and sells Sudanese gum arabic, said the cultivation and harvest of the substance, which mostly happens in rural areas, hasn’t been affected by the clashes so far.

But, he said, the fighting in Khartoum, fuel shortages and the broader lawlessness unleashed by the conflict have made it virtually impossible to move raw gum arabic inside Sudan or export it to another country. 

Most factories that process and clean the gum and the main market used by many traders are located in Khartoum and Omdurman, its twin city across the Nile River. The Red Sea city of Port Sudan, which usually handles most exports of gum arabic, has turned into a hub for thousands of displaced people trying to get to safety in Saudi Arabia.

“I currently have a shipment in Khartoum in a location that is basically a hornet’s nest,” said Mr. Alnoor, who himself is currently stuck in the capital. “It’s ready to ship minus some paperwork from the central bank and I am not leaving until I have complete possession of this shipment, or at least it’s stored or shipped to Port Sudan or in a more secure location.”

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