A guest blog post by Patrick Bailey.
“Some distillers and brewers have resorted to making hand sanitizer during the pandemic.
Like a fine scotch whisky that gets better with age, the global liquor industry might need a few years of fermenting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. And we still don’t know all that’s going down. Will it go flat in the winter of 2021, disappearing mysteriously like the Spanish Influenza of a century ago? Or will the coronavirus hang on like rotgut moonshine, giving us a lingering headache and a serious case of regrets?
The spirits business is usually seen as pretty recession proof. Initial sales in the U.S. were up earlier this year, people presumably stockpiling for quarantine.
Case in point: In 2018, off-premise liquor sales in the U.S. represented 47% (or $113 billion) or alcohol sales. The remaining 53% ($147 billion) was on-premise.
Mail-order wines, beers, and liquors did brisk business in late winter and early spring as people decided if they couldn’t get to the pub, they’d bring the pub (or at least one of its main attractions) to their doorsteps.
But aside from the packing of pantries, alcohol had virtually no other sales outlet. Travel restrictions are still heavily in place. Many bars and restaurants remain shuttered. Concerts, festivals, and sporting events are canceled. The ones that have managed to re-open are not able to do so at pre-COVID capacities.
As a result, there’s a hole in the market. Especially since coronavirus — particularly in the U.S. — isn’t exactly beating a hasty retreat and many public places where people would normally enjoy a pint or something stronger remain closed or at limited capacity.
Another challenge is that we don’t know how COVID-19 will play out. For the most part we’re still in the first wave. A second wave may be hitting South Korea, and that very likely will make its way to other parts of the globe in the weeks and months to come, depending on how well nations have managed the first outbreaks. Further complicating things is we don’t yet have a vaccine or a medication that’s an effective treatment.
Without a sure cure, sales are likely to remain stagnant. In fact, double-digit declines are forecast for the coming years. Market research indicates that globally, the drinks industry may not bounce back until 2024. For the U.S. and the U.K., it may take even longer.
Beer, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, may fare better long-term than wine and spirits, however. (Sparkling wine and hard seltzers, which have gained popularity in recent years, are also anticipated to do better.)
Gin and whiskey are expected to take less of a hit from coronavirus compared to vodka, too.
For the distilleries and breweries to survive, however, adaptation may be key. Innovation and thinking outside the box — or ahead of it — may be a lifeline. E-commerce is one way to go. Apps and subscription services that deliver alcohol right to consumers’ doors are doing bang-up business in early 2020.
Another strategy has been to revamp operations to meet a new need: Hand sanitizers. Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, the stuff flew off shelves. Months later many stores still limit how much people are allowed to purchase.
To try and meet demand, some companies have made the switch from producing gins and whiskies to making hand sanitizers. Dozens of U.S. distilleries have made the shift. Plenty of U.K. producers have done so, too.
Regular spirits like vodka or gin do not make good hand sanitizer as most of them are in the 40% abv alcohol range, whereas the hand sanitizers we count on to kill viruses and bacteria need to be in the 60% or better range.
But, considering that distilleries already have one of the key ingredients for sanitizer — namely alcohol — many producers are finding the transition to be quite manageable. Alcohol (aka ethanol) is denatured — made unfit for human consumption with a few additives. One common add-in is isopropyl alcohol, which also flew off shelves and is still hard to come by.
Typically hand sanitizers will have denatured alcohol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide, an emollient to prevent excessive drying of the skin, and sometimes distilled water or essential oils or fragrance.
(Something as high as 90% to 100% alcohol can be too drying; typically a smaller amount of alcohol is better — 80% tops — with some emollients.)
For some distilleries the switch from making the hard stuff to making stuff for the hands has proven relatively seamless. For others it’s taking a bit more work. In this time of uncertainty, however, the survival is in the proof — and a few other essential ingredients.”
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. He was kind enough to offer to write this blog post for Inside the Cask.