Innovation: Lack of product makes for strange partners in COVID-19 war

Just as politics can make strange bedfellows, a worldwide pandemic can make strange partners. When a shortage of a basic product used in the battle against the spread of COVID-19 was noticed, companies with a capacity to help are stepping up.

In some markets, hand sanitizer is in short supply. The very first recommendation offered to stop the spread of the coronavirus is letting people know of the importance of thorough and frequent handwashing. When soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer is the next best thing. Panicked shoppers are being discouraged from over-purchasing and hoarding personal hygiene products but not everyone cooperates. And, in some spots, there was simply not enough stock in place in the first place.

In France, for example, luxury perfume makers Dior and Givenchy are stepping up by making hand sanitizer for delivery to French health care workers, free of charge. With France’s total number of cases of the coronavirus confirmed continuing to rise, now over 5,397 and 127 deaths, a shortage of the product spurred on a little innovation. Luxury goods conglomerate LVMH announced all production facilities would begin producing hand sanitizer, not perfume or makeup products on Monday. LVHM is the parent company of Christian Dior, Guerlain, and Givenchy.

The gel will be delivered to French health authorities and the Assistance Publique-Hospitaux de Paris, a network of 39 teaching hospitals that treats more than 8 million patients each year, according to its website.

“Through this initiative, LVMH intends to help address the risk of a lack of product in France and enable a greater number of people to continue to take the right action to protect themselves from the spread of the virus,” the company said in a press release.

This week alone, the company will be able to make 12 tons of the product. LVMH will continue to honor its commitment as long as it is needed.

Martine Hirsch, the head of Paris hospitals, is grateful. “I wish to thank LVMH for acting so quickly: they made us this offer on Saturday night at 9pm, and confirmed it on Sunday.”

The health care system in France isn’t completely out of the product but supplies are “strained”.

The city’s hospitals have not yet run out of gel but supplies are “strained,” a spokeswoman for the Paris hospital system said, adding that other companies have also said they are ready to donate supplies. Fears of catching the new coronavirus have sparked a run on hand gel across France, with many pharmacies restricting clients to one small bottle per person.

The government issued a decree limiting prices after reports some retailers were trying to make extra profit from would-be buyers, with a 100ml bottle now costing no more than three euros.

Producers across France say they have been hiring workers to meet the soaring demand, as authorities urge stringent hand cleaning among measures to curtail the outbreak.

We know that for hand sanitizer to be effective it must be at least 60% alcohol, according to the CDC. In an interesting twist, distilleries are stepping up in the U.S. and producing hand sanitizer and cleaning solutions, too.

Durham, NC-based Durham Distillery, which makes Conniption Gin (and is minority-owned by Constellation Brands), received approval late Thursday from the government agency that oversees alcohol laws in the control state to distribute an ethanol-based “Sanitizing Solution” to bars and restaurants in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

The Sanitizing Solution is made from the same 95% alcohol-by-volume (abv) corn-based ethanol Durham uses for its gin, diluted to a ratio of 70% ethanol to distilled water, about the same level as rubbing alcohol. (By comparison, their Navy Strength Gin is bottled at 57% abv, and their American Dry Gin at 44% abv.) The spray is not flavored with juniper and it’s not a hand sanitizer; it’s intended to spray tabletops and other high-touch areas, effectively killing microbes.

The company is offering it to all local hospitality operations free of charge, in two-liter measures (about a two-week supply). All others have to do is come pick it up.

In Indianapolis, Hotel Tango awaits final approval from the federal government before shipping cases out to those in need. It is expected within a matter of days. The first batch will be donated to local Indianapolis and Fort Wayne shelters. The next batches will be shipped to military bases overseas in affected countries. Perhaps in the future, the company may see it in their tasting rooms.

“With the shortages of hand sanitizers across the United States, we felt like we had to do something to help,” Travis Barnes, CEO and founder of Hotel Tango, said. “Since we already have facilities and equipment geared toward producing high-proof alcohol, which is a common cleaning and anti-bacterial agent, it feels like we have a duty to help wherever we can. This is a time for all of us to come together and combine our focused efforts to get COVID-19 under control.”

“We want to do everything we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and contribute to those in need, but do not want to shut down operations,” Mike Leary, Hotel Tango’s Chief Operating Officer, said. “The communities we serve are taking this matter very seriously, but still deserve to have a healthy space to gather and enjoy themselves. We want to be one of those destinations. Thankfully, now we’ll have plenty of Hotel Tango’s alcohol-based cleaner, ready-to-protect.”

And, don’t forget New York’s own version of hand sanitizer.

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