March 24, 2020

4 Min Read
Brands Refit Packaging for Hand Sanitizers
What happens when there’s a critical shortage of virus-fighting hand sanitizers in the midst of a pandemic? Beverage brands and others from BrewDog to Pernod Ricard come to the rescue. Image: Goffkein/Adobe Stock

To combat the spread of COVID-19, breweries, distillers, and others changeover to package sanitizers to supplement inadequate supplies.

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting most aspects of life as numerous things we may have taken for granted pre-COVID-19 — work, sports, shopping, socializing, product availability, and more — have suddenly and dramatically changed.

I’ve kept up with the news — or the converse, avoiding it to unwind, which is even harder — but it all hit me March 12 at Walmart. That’s where I first saw entire rows of ordinarily packed shelves cleaned out, including toilet paper, paper towels and most if not all paper goods in the personal-care section.

Likewise, entire aisles of cleaning products along with the hand sanitizers section were empty, and other staples like soups and cereal were scarce.

It was sobering and somewhat shocking turning point.

A week later, hand sanitizers were still unavailable at Target, and an online check this week confirmed that Amazon was in the same bind. The unavailability of this recommended product as part of COVID-19 prevention could potentially be a live-or-death shortage.

But help has arrived from a surprising sources, brands — brand owners, distilleries, a brewery a luxury goods/perfumes maker, and a plastics supplier — that have never packaged hand sanitizers have stepped up. These responsive companies have quickly mobilized to fill the gap as the following examples from coast to coast and beyond show.

BrewDog out of Scotland, which has a U.S. presence, made a pivot from beer to sanitizer when it was contacted by the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary’s Intensive Care Unit after it ran out. The brewer filled and delivered the sanitizer for free.

Also in the UK, Dundee-based gin distillery Verdant Spirits plans to produce 400L/106gal of hand sanitizer, and set up a Go FundMe page to help with £2,500 duty cost, according to The Evening Standard.

Stateside, Shine Distillery in Portland, OR, is making free hand sanitizer for customers amid the coronavirus-driven shortage, which was sparked by a fortuitous eureka moment. It had been informally making a cleaning concoction out of undrinkable liquid leftover from distillation that led to redirecting of those jug-filled ingredients for hand sanitizing. The New York Post reported the story.

Spirit Hound Distillers in Lyons, CO, ordered a shipment of glycerin and hydrogen peroxide per a World Health Organization recipe and made a 48-gallon batch of 80% alcohol hand sanitizer and distributed them for free, noted the Denver Post.

Major alcohol brands are also mobilizing. Spirits giant Pernod Ricard, makers of spirits products from Absolut Vodka to Beefeater to Chivas Regal and select others scattered across an alphabet of iconic brands, is aiming to produce hand sanitizer via its Sweden-based vodka brand Absolut.

Last May, Packaging Digest reported on the company’s sustainable packaging efforts.

You’ll find a nice roundup of the topic and distilleries in U.S. News & World Report.

Companies in other markets have also rallied to the cause.

Among other products and sectors, London-based Ineos is a biofuels and polymer supplier for packaging and other markets. It’s also a leading European producer of the two key raw materials needed for sanitizers, isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and ethanol. The company plants are already running flat out and have been diverting more of of the ingredients to essential medical use and for filling personal size “pocket bottles.”  March 24 it announced plans to produce 1 million hand sanitizers per month in the UK to help with the European shortage and will replicate this in Germany. Ineos will provide sanitizer free to hospitals.

Paris-based luxury goods company LVMH, makers of fragrances for Christian Dior, Givenchy, and Guerlain, is devoting production to packaging hand sanitizer. The company expects to provide the French government with a 12 tons of hydroalcoholic gel, according to Dwell.

The FDA weighs in.

With apparently murky guidance to this emerging market amidst the fast-moving coronavirus and critical shortages, the FDA weighed in on the topic March 20 while outlining guidelines.

“We are aware of significant supply disruptions for alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” said Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Many manufacturers make hand sanitizers, and several have indicated that they are working to increase supply. In the meantime, these guidances provide flexibility to help meet demand during this outbreak. We will continue to work with manufacturers, compounders, state boards of pharmacy and the public to increase the supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizer available to Americans.”

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