Perth-based Top Shelf Distillers has joined the fight against COVID-19 by switching over one of its production lines to produce and bottle hand sanitizer, which is in extremely high demand and short supply.
Stuart Thornly, who works in communications for Top Shelf, says they were able to pivot so quickly to making hand sanitizer because it’s very similar to spirits. They saw other alcohol producers elsewhere making the switch and decided to follow suit.
Naturally, they had plenty of alcohol on hand, but generous donations from members of their community, including the local pharmacy and Perth Soap Works, filled in the blanks as far as other ingredients.
“The key is to have something that’s 75 per cent alcohol or above, but then you need the emollients like glycerin or coconut oil, otherwise it dries your hands out like crazy, and it won’t even work,” Thornly says. “We’re not making Purell – it’s viscous, like liquid, but we’ve received generous donations to make it more jelly-like, which is better for people using it.”
Their initial batch of 600 50-mL bottles went so fast that they created an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to scale up production and get greater quantities of sanitizer into (or onto) the hands of people who need it. Top Shelf has also applied for financial support from federal and provincial governments but has yet to receive it. They felt it was extremely important not to fall behind, given the overwhelming demand from the community: Over 2,000 organizations have contacted Top Shelf to try to obtain some of their product.
“To do this in the immediate, we had three options: we can make really small batches; we can wait for government funding, or payments from suppliers to come in. But we need to mobilize now; we cannot sit around waiting to see if we’re going to get government funding. So we decided we needed to crowdfund to not fall behind,” Thornly says.
Their original crowdfunding goal of $10,000 will cover their second batch of hand sanitizer: 1,000 230-mL bottles, which will be ready in a few days. Within the next couple of weeks, Thornly says they should be able to produce between 10,000 and 20,000 units.
“Without this funding, we’d be a full week to 10 days behind where we will be now. The goal is to not lose time and fall behind. Time is critical. The key is being proactive rather than reactive.”
Thanks to strong support from the community, they’ve already exceeded their goal by more than $4,000, with one day left in the Indiegogo campaign.
“Extra funds will simply allow us to scale. The funds from Indiegogo will 100 per cent cover inputs like raw materials, bottles, and printing labels, and during a time when the economy is absolutely shattered, we still have to pay our staff. A lot of that money will go to labour costs. Any extra will allow us to hit that 10,000-20,000 mark much faster.”
“The goal is to not lose time and fall behind. Time is critical. The key is being proactive rather than reactive.”
Thornly adds that the company is selling the product at the lowest possible margin. Approximately 50 cents from each unit comes back to the company and is reinvested into hand sanitizer production. They are also donating a portion of their product to local charitable organizations that cannot afford to purchase it.
“The sale of it allows us to bring our costs down dramatically. By selling ethically and donating some, that’s to make sure it’s available to the public. We’ll have a drive-through pickup location in Perth and one in Ottawa,” he says.
“We’re not making a profit off this —we have to do it, and it’s something we all want to do. We are working around the clock to make sure we don’t lose time. Our staff are staying late, sneaking back in after we send them home, to continue working.”
The Top Shelf Indiegogo campaign closes at midnight on Wednesday, March 25. There are options to donate two, 10, and 50 bottles of sanitizer, and donors will also receive a bottle shipped to them.