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“Categories are established in a crisis,” says Sameer Satpathy, the divisional chief executive of the personal care division at ITC. Indeed, the biscuits-to-hotels Indian conglomerate has committed to making 125,000 litres of its new Savlon Hexa hand sanitiser, something that was initially meant to be a ‘niche’ product for ITC. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on this relatively small, Rs 60 crore ($7.9 million) vertical in India’s FMCG FMCG Fast Moving Consumer Goods Fast Moving Consumer Goods like food, beverages, toiletries and over-the-counter drugs sell quickly and at relatively low prices sector. Demand for hand sanitisers and disinfectants has rocketed by nearly 400%. ITC’s factories are working overtime to meet this dramatic surge in demand, says Satpathy. 

ITC even had to repurpose its new perfume factory in Himachal Pradesh to do this.“The chemical base of alcohol is common. This was the fastest way to get to market,” says Satpathy. It has also launched a new multi-purpose disinfectant spray under the Savlon brand. 

The initial demand spike may settle, says Satpathy, but sanitisers are likely going to be a familiar part of post-pandemic life. As the lockdown eases, and businesses and public services begin functioning, staying sanitised may be the first—and possibly only—line of defense against contracting the Covid-19 virus.

Every touchpoint—from pushing an elevator button to turning the door knob to sitting at a common-purpose table—will have to be rid of potential infection. Strict government compliances notwithstanding, safety is now a crucial selling point crucial selling point The Ken When in a pandemic, sell hygiene Read more  to get customers through the door.

Cleaning costs, says Sanchal Ranjan, founder of ZiffyHomes, a chain of co-living spaces, will now be 8-9% of their operational budget, up from 2-3% earlier. For his type of business, near-constant disinfection is key to get clients. 

But being the first line of defence isn’t easy. 

First, it puts immense pressure on the efficacy of the product. Will it indeed kill 99.9% of germs the way the label promises? 

Second, and more urgently, there’s a sanitiser shortage. “We haven’t received any stocks of Savlon, Dettol, or Lifebuoy sanitisers in the last two weeks,” says a chemist based in south Delhi. The government responded to the shortage with a war-like effort, expediting manufacturing licences for distilleries, and pressing public sector companies like BIBCOL BIBCOL Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Limited BIBCOL is a public sector undertaking of the Indian government, under the administrative control of the Department of Biotechnology.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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