- As consumers are emptying store shelves of hand sanitizer and causing shortages, spirit makers are producing branded hand sanitizers that they are donating, according to Beverage Industry. Both local distilleries and nationally recognized companies such as Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Anheuser-Busch are taking part in producing hand sanitizer.
- This surge in distillery-produced hand sanitizer follows the FDA’s announcement last week that the agency will permit certain facilities and licensed professionals to produce hand sanitizer as long as they follow the agency’s prescribed recipe.
- “The hospitality industry is going to be decimated by this and they are our primary clients. We’re looking for ways to help in the response to this, but also to find other ways to look for revenue streams,” Brad Plummer, spokesman for the American Distilling Institute and editor of Distiller Magazine told NBC News.
This seemingly humanitarian effort on the part of distilleries to provide hand sanitizer to Americans is not 100% altruistic. Many distilleries and brewers such as Diageo and Anheuser-Busch rely heavily on wholesale production for bars and restaurants. These companies also depend on a healthy consumer to buy their products at these establishments so with people at home and these locations shuttered or seeing a sharp decline in business, alcohol makers lose out.
In the face of empty grocery shelves and an uncertain future, Americans have gone into full-on pantry stocking mode. But one item that is conspicuously absent from many shelves is alcohol. Nielsen statistics emailed to Food Dive on Friday showed U.S. residents are stocking up on basic necessities. Oat milk sales were up 476.7% for the week ended March 14 compared to a year ago, canned meat was up 187.8%, rice sales rose 166.1% and soup was up 126.6%.
Hard liquor producers don’t want to be left behind. In order to keep staff employed and do their part to combat the spread of the disease, hand sanitizer is a logical product for these companies to produce. Not only does providing a much-desired and much-needed anti-bacterial product going to earn these companies accolades in the public, but it is also an easy transition to use the alcohol that already exists in the distilleries.
Drinking alcohol and rubbing alcohol are not identical substances, but they can be used as substitutes for each other. With a 313.4% spike in hand sanitizer sales in the week ended February 29, according Nielsen numbers reported by MarketWatch, the FDA opened the door for recipes that followed its requirement of 80% alcohol by volume, aloe and glycerin in the final product.
Liquors that are consumed in bars have muted alcohol content compared to the initial ethanol product that is used to craft them. Wired.com noted that distilled vodka is 40% alcohol but that is because it is cut with water; the liquor alone can be up to 96% alcohol, exactly what is needed for hand sanitizer.
With science working in their favor, distilleries have the capability to repurpose unrefined liquor as a medicinal sanitizer. Although not pharmacy-grade, distillery-made sanitizer is preferable to the homemade concoctions that people are making. Bloomberg reported that the FDA presented concerns about the safety of homemade versions.
Currently, the distilleries producing hand sanitizer are donating the final product. Depending on the popularity of the product though, there is an opportunity to charge for the anti-bacterial gel after the virus crisis has abated. There also is the potential for hand sanitizer to be repurposed as swag for brand marketing at events as it will be tied to an image of the company contributing to the greater good of the nation.
In the meantime, hand sanitizer will keep these liquor company brands front and center with current and potential future customers. There is even a good chance that when things settle down again, those who used the brands’ hand sanitizers will show an interest in the core alcohol products.