Pandemic response

How did Wessex as a company respond to Covid-19?

Which products did you find were in more demand? (hand sanitizer, multi-surface cleaner) Tell us about these products, how they work and why they were crucial for COVID. What measures did you put in place to meet the increased demand?

As we saw COVID-19 approaching the UK discussions started after a conversation with one of our customers who anticipated a shortage of hand sanitiser and effective surface cleaners was coming. Although alcohol hand sanitiser was something we had made in the past in large quantities, we hadn’t made any in a while due to the market being saturated with other products.

Having built up such strong relationships with our suppliers, we were able to secure supplies of the raw materials which we required to make the hand sanitiser, and which were becoming harder and harder to come by.  Our Alcohol Hand Sanitiser 70% had the benefit of not only working to kill germs effectively but also contains skin conditioning additives making it great for people with skin problems including contact dermatitis and eczema.

As for effective surface cleaners, we had plenty of biocidal and viricidal cleaners in stock so the only issue we faced with these was securing the spray bottles which were also in very short supply. Again, our strong supply chain came through for us and suppliers were able to secure the quantities we needed to fulfil orders.

When we had our first batch of hand sanitiser ready we sent an email to all of our existing customers to let them know that stock was available and also that we had a new refill station where they could bring bottles in to be topped up. As soon as the clock hit 9 and the phones came off answerphone, they didn’t stop ringing until the end of the day! The demand was huge as people could see stocks depleting and a lock-down coming so wanted to move quickly to keep their families, customers and staff safe.

Once lockdown began, as we were providing essential products which fell under PPE requirements we took the decision to keep the offices and manufacturing plant open. At times we had some staff shielding, people self-isolating and some home-schooling going on but our staff members were amazing and all worked together as a (socially distanced) team to keep everything running and make sure customers got the goods they needed on time.

During this time, we also had many enquiries from people wanting to buy Iso-Propyl Alcohol (IPA) from us in small containers.  This is the main raw material in hand sanitiser which kills viruses, bacteria etc. and we often found that these enquiries were from people who wanted to make their own sanitiser. As the IPA we hold in smaller sizes is medical grade, we took the decision to reserve it for our customers who were making vital life-saving medical equipment including ventilators and associated parts. They needed the raw IPA for their manufacturing process and we felt this was far more important so we encouraged people to buy the ready made Alcohol Hand Sanitiser. We felt that it was also really important to keep the price reasonable so we kept to our usual profit margins despite noticing there was a lot of profiteering happening and this is not something we could be involved in for ethical reasons.

Which companies/industries were in need of your products?

We had many enquiries from front line workers such as NHS, Police Force and Fire Service and we took the decision to offer all of these sectors, including pharmacies, a much reduced rate. In cases where we found out that they didn’t currently have any budget left we donated the hand sanitiser just to help keep the staff safe. We are still offering discounts on Hand Sanitiser and Surface cleaners to all frontline workers and also to groups in need, including community support groups helping people in isolation.

We also had 205 litre barrels of hand sanitiser going to several hospitals through some of our customers and ensured that these orders were prioritised to keep hospital staff protected.

Did you develop any new products? Did you adjust/change the formula of any existing products?

During lock-down we reformulated one of our best cleaning and sanitising products to make it even more effective against viruses and bacteria. We then took the decision to get it tested against British and European Standards and the formulation passed with flying colours! The testing found the formulation to be effective against COVID-19 at just 1%, that’s just 10ml per 1 litre of water. It was also found to be effective with just a 1 minute contact time compared to many other products on the market which were effective in 5 minutes. So we now have the Steri-Clean / VB20 product which we sell in a refillable 1 litre bottle as a concentrated product with a dosing chamber to make measuring out as easy as possible. In such tough times we’re really pleased to have such an effective product which is also highly economical.

Have the products that people are now buying to combat COVID changed?

Since the initial rush to get cleaners and sanitisers to as many people and businesses as possible we have seen the demand for Alcohol Hand Sanitiser and Steri-Clean / VB20 drop off to a steady level. Once lockdown started to ease there was a large increase in cleaning and maintenance products for leisure vehicles such as boats and motorhomes, especially our Blue Bio biological toilet fluid, as people were eager to get out and about again.

As we settle into autumn, and people are looking toward what winter will bring, we are seeing another uplift in cleaning and sanitising products. This time though, this business is coming from industry buying in bulk rather than individuals as supermarkets currently seem to have a good supply of cleaning, sanitising and maintenance products on the shelf.