Walk into any drug store, grocery chain or market today, and you’ll be hit with a wall of hand sanitizers and cleaning products that help fight against the coronavirus — but most have names that are unfamiliar to the average shopper.
Clean n’ Natural, Germs Be Gone, SmartCare, Safe & Soft and M. Skin Care are just a few brands that have replaced the well-known Purell, Clorox and Lysol sanitizers and cleaners on shelves.
Most of those “new” manufacturers and companies had already been in the cleaning or beauty industries and were able to ramp up production of hand sanitizer or wet wipes once demand surged.
Americans have been gobbling up hand sanitizer and wipes during the pandemic. Sales volume for hand sanitizer and hand wipes was $200 million and $33 million, respectively, from March to July of this year, according to market research company The NPD Group’s retail tracking service. That’s an increase of 465% and 41%, compared to the same months last year, according to NPD.
The explosion in demand also led to the US Food and Drug Administration to temporarily ease restrictions on manufacturers looking to make sanitizer, outlining that “the agency does not intend to take action against manufacturing firms that prepare alcohol-based hand sanitizers for consumer use.” However, that hasn’t quite gone according to plan: The FDA has now warned against using more than 100 hand sanitizer products because their ingredients contain methanol or have insufficient levels of alcohol.
Where’s the Purell?
GOJO Industries, which makes Purell, says it’s been producing Purell at more than double its pre-pandemic levels since February, but it hasn’t been available in many stores because it supplies hospitals and first responders before consumers.
All of its plants are operating 24/7, and GOJO began to ship more than two times its 2019 levels to retailers starting in July, the company said.
Clorox said stores will continue to face shortages of its wipes and other products into 2021 because of overwhelming demand.
How other brands filled the gap
Lesser-known brands have popped up seemingly out of nowhere.
Although Brands International has always been in the business of making sanitizer, albeit on a smaller scale, the pandemic led it to ramp up production and focus solely on hand sanitizer, according to Mark Rubinoff, the Canadian company’s founder and CEO.
Brands International’s 10 production lines were converted to only making Germs Be Gone hand sanitizer. The company sold about 35 million bottles of sanitizer this year, up from 1 million in all of 2019.
SmartCare, a value-products brand of California-based Ashtel Studios, has been producing sanitizer since 2014. President Anish Patel said he had planned to build the brand this year and talk to retailers to get it into stores — and then Covid-19 came to the US and demand was “explosive.”
“What we had planned was going to happen in three-to-four years happened in a couple months,” he said.
The company already sold soaps, bath tissues and kitchen towels at Walgreens, CVS, Menards and Meijer. Patel said those relationships helped SmartCare set up an ever-expanding delivery schedule.
Israeli company Albaad, which makes wet wipes and feminine hygiene products, was started nearly 35 years ago and expanded to the US in 2004 with a production facility in North Carolina. Albaad CEO Dan Mesika said that demand is so high for wipes that the company has been getting requests via its website from individuals desperate to find wipes, asking them to send to their homes.
To help meet demand, the company developed Cleanitize disinfecting wipes, which Albaad expects to be released in September or October.
Walgreens and CVS started looking in some atypical places for hand sanitizer when demand outstripped supply. They placed orders to M. Skin Care and Miss Spa for hand sanitizer in the late spring. They had made hand sanitizer for the drug store chains off and on over the past decade, but the brands weren’t producing it at all this time last year, according to President Lisa Ashcraft. The company’s sanitizer products hit stores nationwide by June.
Bottleneck in supplies
In March and April, Ashtel’s Patel said there were shortages on everything from bottles and caps to raw materials, causing a domino effect on production. When the company was able to buy products, they bought in bulk, mostly from Asia because US and Mexican suppliers were at full capacity or selling at extremely high prices.
“We had to get very creative in every aspect of it,” Patel said.
Access to ethanol and thickener used in hand sanitizer was “extremely hard” to get, as well as pumps, bottles and other components, explained Richie Ryan Rubin, executive vice president of California-based Garcoa Labs, which makes Clean n’ Natural sanitizer.
“In terms of scaling up, the industry was caught flat-footed,” he said. “Pumps have been a major, major problem. The majority of pumps come from China,” he said. The virus and shutdown there created a huge backlog amid tremendous demand.
To help with supply, some companies have resorted to putting sanitizer in unusual bottles. But customers have been “very forgiving and accepting of all different iterations” of their product, said Brands International’s Rubinoff.
A sea-change for the sanitizer industry?
Some of the brand leaders believe the coronavirus pandemic has changed the sanitizer industry forever.
Sanitizer has become an integral product to people’s everyday lives as their behavior has changed, according to Ashtel’s Patel.
“Sanitizers were not something that people always used. But today, even if there was a vaccination or medication, I think just the behavior of parents teaching their kids — now kids know what sanitizer is.”
Although Rubinoff thinks the industry will normalize to a certain extent and demand won’t reach the levels of the past few months, he said sanitizer has now become a staple in homes — as well as in offices and factories as economies reopen.
“I think the new normal is … you’re going to go out, you’re going to grab your keys, your purse and the bottle of sanitizer. I think it’s just going to be ingrained in the psyche of people going forward,” he said.