Shifts in Industry: From Whiskey to Hand Sanitizer

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has left grocery and pharmacy aisles empty. As much as we see items such as toilet paper being bought out, the supply of more critical items such as masks, ventilators, and hand sanitizer is also diminishing significantly in terms of the sudden demand being seen for those life-saving essentials. This need is so high that even the large industry that typically supplies hand sanitizer isn’t big enough to meet demand. Luckily, the corporate world is stepping up. 


Pernod Ricard SA is a $35 billion dollar French spirits giant. As a Bloomberg article states, it was actually thanks to two women (thank you ladies!) that the huge company decided to start producing hand sanitizer. Melissa Hanesworth and Tara Engel, who held positions in the New York-based branch of the company, felt there was something they could do to help the world in this crisis: repurpose distilleries to produce industrial amounts of hand sanitizer. Their proposal was approved, and within two days Hanesworth and Engel had not only placed massive orders for the extra chemicals needed to make hand sanitizer but had also worked with the White House Coronavirus task force to get around FDA regulations that would get in the way of starting production immediately. Let’s. Freaking. Go. Girls. 


The Pernod Ricard SA story is a mirror of other alcohol distilleries’ and craft breweries’ actions during this time. The same Bloomberg article states, “The American Craft Spirits Association said 3 in 4 of its distillery members are now producing alcohol for use as disinfectant.” Apparently a common feeling among these distilleries is that if you have the power to help, you should. Some companies are selling hand sanitizer along with their vodkas, gins, whiskeys, while an even larger chunk of them are donating the sanitizer, or doing both. A New York Times article states that Bacardi had partnered with a Puerto Rican manufacturer, Olein Refinery, and donated half a million bottles to the local communities. Ryan Thompson, owner and founder of 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company, says, “We’ve been hit hard just like every small business in the country, but it doesn’t seem right to sell this for a profit, so we’re just giving it away.” Such selfless acts provide a look into the humanity behind the large company names of the corporate world. 


During WWII the government had to order big auto factories to start producing war machinery. Now, the story of shifting production is much brighter. These alcohol companies didn’t have to be ordered by the government, but rather reached out and took initiative themselves. Companies are working with each other in the midst of this pandemic, as well as with local communities and hospitals, and even with the federal government and organizations like the WHO. Some companies are even letting go of the cut-throat nature of capitalism in the United States and sharing intellectual property like recipes, ratios, and instructions to best serve the needs of the world right now, proving that we are all stronger together.