Distilleries making hand sanitizer and other ways businesses are reallocating resources to fight coronavirus
Like most people starting a small business, Nicholas Hammond put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into opening Pacific Coast Spirits in Oceanside, Calif. And as with any entrepreneur, the distiller had a lot of visions for the future. When he opened Pacific Coast Spirits the day before Thanksgiving last year, he certainly didn’t envision that in a matter of months, he’d be in the hand sanitizer business.
Then, all of us have had to adjust the last several weeks, as circumstances most of us never imagined have evolved into the new normal. Like a lot of small business owners, Hammond had to go through the painful experience of laying off workers who were more like family. Also like a lot of business owners, he and his team got to work seeing what they could do to help during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The distillers guilds and leaders had the conversations from Day One with the FDA and ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control),” Hammond told BOSS. “The FDA stepped in and gave us regulations and gave us a quick pathway to approval.”
Just like that, Pacific Coast Spirits and dozens of distilleries around the US became hand sanitizer factories during a nationwide shortage. The transition was actually pretty easy.
“We make 95% alcohol for our vodka every day anyway,” Hammond said, so producing sanitizer to meet the CDC guidelines of 60-95% alcohol concentration wasn’t difficult. What has proved difficult is meeting demand. “We’re bringing in glycerin and hydrogen peroxide on a large scale, which we weren’t used to before. We’re scrambling to make as much alcohol as we can.”
On March 24, Hammond told BOSS they had been averaging about 55 gallons a day. That day, he estimated they’d produce 100 gallons. “I don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” he said.
Still Delivering … & Hiring
Other businesses that don’t see demand stopping anytime soon are delivery services. While plenty of places had to make layoffs in March, with unemployment claims hitting record highs, grocery delivery service Instacart announced it was hiring 300,000 full-service shoppers across North America over three months. Recognizing that these workers are on the front lines of the pandemic, Instacart simultaneously announced that its full-service and in-store shoppers can receive up to 14 days paid leave if diagnosed with Covid-19 or place in mandatory isolation or quarantine.
For customer convenience and safety, Instacart also introduced new features. “We’ve expanded ratings forgiveness, made it easier for you to cancel batches, and launched Mobile Checkout so you can quickly pay at the register with a tap of your phone. We’ve also rolled out a new Leave At My Door Delivery feature nationwide, making it easier for shoppers and customers to safely deliver and receive their orders,” founder & CEO Apoorva Mehta wrote.
Amazon has prioritized stocking and delivery of essential items such as sanitizer, baby formula, and medical supplies. For employees, the delivery giant has raised hourly pay by $2 through April, will pay two times hourly wages for overtime through May 9, and will provide two weeks paid leave for employees diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed in quarantine. The company is also hiring 100,000 full- and part-time workers across the US for warehouse and delivery jobs. Also raising pay $2 an hour through Memorial Day is Walmart, which is hiring 150,000 workers.
Adding workers to warehouses makes it more difficult to practice social distancing and keep them sanitized. As such, workers at Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y., fulfillment center and Instacart workers nationwide staged a walkout March 30 demanding more access to paid sick leave. The Amazon workers asked for a full closure and deep cleaning of the Staten Island warehouse with full pay during the closure, and Instacart workers asked for disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and more hourly pay given the risks involved.
In response, Instacart said it would change tip settings in its app to a higher default and distribute sanitization supplies. Amazon told NPR it was “tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available … and in Staten Island we are now temperature checking everyone entering the facility.”
Manufacturing What’s Needed
On the medical front, businesses large and small are shifting course entirely to protect healthcare workers, get Covid-19 tests out, and develop effective anti-virals.
Aprons. That’s what 30-employee Hedley & Bennett specializes in making. At least it was aprons, until March 20.
“It was like someone flung a brick at my head,” owner Ellen Bennett told Fast Company. “I’ve always been a wake-up-and-fight kind of a girl. And I thought, ‘This is game time.’”
The Wake Up & Fight Mask now gives Bennett a means to keep her employees on the payroll and to help doctors, nurses, and food service workers in desperate need of personal protective equipment. The masks aren’t FDA-approved or substitutes for N95 surgical/procedural masks, but there were developed with guidance from Dr. Robert Cho, Chief of Staff of Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena, Calif. Bennett was inspired by designer Christian Siriano’s pivot to making masks. H&M, Zara, Prada, and LVMH have also pledged to produce protective equipment.
The 3D printing industry is also churning out protective equipment. HP is testing hospital-grade masks and allowing anyone to download the designs for free. Carbon and Formlabs are working with health organizations to develop and produce nasal swab coronavirus tests.
Speaking of much-needed tests, Thermo Fisher has developed one that can deliver results in four hours. The FDA approved the test within 24 hours, and Thermo Fisher Marc Casper told CNBC on March 16 that efforts to get them out are full-go.
“We have already about 1.5 million tests in stock. We began shipping them yesterday and today,” Casper said. “But we’re ramping up to about 2 million tests in production a week, and then over the course of April we’ll be able to get that to about 5 million tests a week in terms of production.”
AI and drug development have become closely entwined in recent years. Iktos and SRI International are ramping that up by combining Iktos’ generative AI technology with SRI’s synthetic chemistry platform SynFini in hopes of accelerating design and production of a therapeutic drug.
Whatever It Takes
Big and small, businesses are reinventing themselves to help during the pandemic. Pacific Coast Spirits, whose Surfrider Foundation-compliant food service operation is still running curbside service complete with cocktails to go, is emblematic of the idea that we’re all in this together.
As Hammond put it, “We just have to use our resources to do what we can to help the people.”