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Stocking up on the new staple: Hand sanitizer

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The importance of hand hygiene was highlighted early in the global COVID-19 pandemic. Health departments advised Canadians to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, or if that wasn’t available, to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Within days demand spiked, and consumers began stockpiling hand sanitizer, antibacterial liquid soap, disposable wet wipes and spray disinfectants.

According to market researcher Statista, year-over-year hand sanitizer sales in Canada jumped 735% during the week ending March 14, 2020, while sales of personal wipes grew 268%. The Canadian hand sanitizer segment is now worth US$29.11 million, and Statista expects 5.5% annual growth for the next five years.

As consumers cleaned out shelves of sanitizers and wipes, Health Canada began fast-tracking licenses for businesses to manufacture, package, label and/or import alcohol-based hand sanitizers. As a result, hundreds of distillers and brewers entered the hand hygiene market, while pharma and skincare companies also pivoted to produce sanitizer. The interim measure, says Health Canada, “will be in place until the regular supply of hand sanitizers stabilizes.”

That could be some time, says Amar Singh, Kantar Consulting’s principal analyst for Canada. “It’s not an out-of-stock problem, it’s basically that the manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand.” In June, for example, GOJO Industries, maker of Purell, announced it had more than doubled its pre-pandemic production levels, and was opening two new Ohio facilities to “expand its capacity to meet exponential increases in demand for Purell sanitizer, soap, wipes and surface spray,” according to the company.

“Demand is going to stay strong,” says Singh, “but the supply is actually going to come from smaller, more local manufacturers. Sourcing and traceability will be key, and the format size will be key, because people are not going to carry a one-litre jar of gel around with them.” He adds that portable sanitizers “will be part of our sanitary regimen for the foreseeable future,” especially as hygiene habits become ingrained. But while it’s currently “more about functionality,” consumers will soon start looking for value-added products. “For instance, hand sanitizer is bad for your skin in the long run, and there are health studies that have come out around strong hand sanitizers … so here will be a revisit of making it safer, there will be new fragrances, new chemical compositions, and even new innovations from this space such as products that are a moisturizer and sanitizer at the same time.”

Hawkesbury, Ont.-based The Green Beaver Company introduced its Antiseptic Spray Hand Sanitizer during the pandemic, although the company’s marketing project manager Yannick Brown says it was already planning to add sanitizer to its line of all-natural body-care products. Available in a 90-mL container, the spray features 70% USP-grade ethanol, essential oils and plant-based glycerin. Brown says he’s seen “an explosion of both conventional and natural alternatives now available,” and although demand “is declining over time,” he expects it to remain high.

Moncton, N.B.-based Prelam Enterprises also launched its E-Z Pur Soap On The Go at the peak of the pandemic in purse- and pocket-size spray bottles. “I realized we can’t carry the usual hand soap bottles with us to the grocery store, so I developed this convenient carry-with- you hand soap,” says Prelam co-founder Luc Jalbert. The soap contains five essential oils with “antimicrobial and antiseptic properties,” purportedly first used against the Black Plague. Jalbert adds that “since this innovation launched, we’ve developed a new alcohol-free hand sanitizer with glycerin, that is effective and that is approved by Health Canada.” Also new is its E-Z Pur Shopper’s Helper Surface Disinfectant in a portable 53-mL bottle.

We can expect to see even more anti-bacterial wipes and other new formats of hand sanitizer appearing on the market, says Singh, adding that “those innovations will be quick-selling items at the front of the store.”

He suggests merchandising hand sanitizer as part of a hygiene regime that includes moisturizer and other skin lotions, in the same way after-sun products are sold with sunscreen. Brown agrees, saying hand sanitizers should be “with the hand soaps, and at impulse purchase points like the cash.”

Singh also suggests grocers take their cues from U.K. chains like Marks & Spencer and Boots, which now sell mini versions of their private-label sanitizers in single and multi-pack formats. “It depends on the margins, but it’s an area of investment grocers should look into because it does add incrementality.”

Originally published at Canadian Grocer.