When Andy Mallows set up Hensol Castle Distillery last August, he deliberately created it to be able to cope with any eventuality. He had no idea then, of course, that within eight months the young business would be making hand sanitisers for hospitals and care workers in the midst of a lethal pandemic – or that he would be struggling with getting the supplies to make the vital gel.
Andy, at the distillery in the Vale of Glamorgan, didn’t hesitate to say yes when he got a call from the Welsh Government to ask if he could turn some of his production line over to making the life-saving equipment. But he’s finding it easier said than done with bottlenecks appearing as the cost of essential supplies skyrockets.
The distillery has 800,000 litres of sanitiser ready to distribute to customers including NHS Health Boards, local authorities and social care providers. But Andy had to resort to LinkedIn to appeal for suppliers of PET bottles after the cost of the bottles shot up from 1p to 65p each.
Andy described the response to his LinkedIn appeal for bottles as “fantastic”. One provider stepped forward to supply 300,000 bottles, while another is selling the distillery 150,000.
But Andy says those will all go within two weeks. Care workers want 100ml bottles they can take with them when they are travelling to see elderly and vulnerable clients in their homes. For the hospitals, the distillery is filling one or 5 litre containers, so they can either refill their own bottles or have a pump station on their wards.
Meanwhile the cost of glycerol, a key ingredient in the making of sanitiser, has also shot up from £600 per 1,000 litres to £1,300, and with the producers holding out for the best price from desperate sanitiser makers, it’s been difficult to secure a reliable source.
“We made a test batch to make sure our guys could make it, but then couldn’t make any more because we didn’t have a supplier for the glycerol. But we’ve found a supplier now and are hoping to get some by Tuesday.”
Andy said that he didn’t care how much he had to pay for the glycerol, he just needed a reliable, constant supply. His customers, like Cardiff, Vale and Bridgend councils and the Welsh Government on behalf of the NHS, need a continuous supply for the weeks and months ahead.
But the problems with the cost of supplies has put the young company’s cash flow under severe pressure, and Andy has had to have conversations with the Welsh Government about support in buying stocks.
Andy said that despite the supply difficulties, the distillery was making every effort to meet the demand from its customers.
A few of its back office staff, in marketing and other departments, have been sent home on furlough, but most of the production line workers are busy making either the sanitiser or the distillery’s normal products, such as gin, rum, vodka and liqueurs, which have also seen a surge in demand as people stock up for the lockdown.
Andy said the way companies like his had switched to producing new products was like a wartime mobilisation.
“This is World War 3, but we’re fighting an invisible enemy that’s killing people, and what we’re trying to be is a manufacturer that creates the bullets that fire back. That’s how I’m explaining it to our company and our workers.”