OC CEO sounds alarms on hand sanitizer shortages

Bottles of hand sanitizer before labels are put on them are seen on a conveyor belt. (Gabrielle Lurie/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

A Garden Grove-based hand sanitizer manufacturer has about two weeks of alcohol left to make the product because of heavy demand caused by the coronavirus outbreak, its CEO said Thursday.

"No supplier in the U.S. even has 50 gallons of alcohol" to make hand sanitizer, said Rakesh Tammabattula, CEO of QYK Brands, owner of the Dr. J's and Glow brands. "We have been able to find at least enough for the next two weeks"

Another challenge hand sanitizer manufacturers are facing is getting bottles to put the product in, Tammabattula told City News Service.

"The entire country is completely sold out of plastic bottles of any size, regular or irregular shape that can hold liquid," he said.

"They're using any bottle they can get and filling it with hand sanitizer. We're looking for supplies of the bottles and part of the alcohol from neighboring (countries)."

Tammabattula said his company has been obtaining supplies from Mexico, Canada and China, but shipping by air is increasingly problematic.

The supplies for hand sanitizer are highly flammable, so large volumes cannot be shipped by air, he said.

If the coronavirus spreads a great deal more there could be increasing pressure to tighten up the borders in North America, making it tougher to get supplies even by ground transport, Tammabattula said.

Tammabattula said his smaller company was better prepared for the high demand for hand sanitizer because he works with numerous smaller manufacturers throughout the nation instead of having more centralized production, where only a month's supply is usually generated because it's a highly combustible product.

"I would say 90% of manufacturers in the U.S. were not even aware of the demand" earlier this month, Tammabattula said. "They did not really take it seriously."

Working with smaller manufacturers, "the lead time can be short, so that worked to our advantage," Tammabattula said.

QYK executives anticipated the rising demand when they monitored the analytics on their company's website, Tammabattula said.

"Early March, that's when we saw the surge in searches for hand sanitizer. That's when we started ramping up our production," Tammabattula said.

"Even though it feels like a boom time, it's so challenging. It's uncertain how things will be tomorrow, so we're trying to do as much as we can.''

Tammabattula, who lives in Irvine, said he has been alarmed at how many Orange County residents have been ignoring pleas to practice social distancing during the crisis.

"I see very few people following that," he said. "I still feel people here are not taking it seriously, and they just don't understand the gravity of the situation."

Through his relationships with manufacturers and suppliers, Tammabattula has been able to acquire face masks and sources of respirators.

"We have primarily reserves those for health care workers," Tammabattula said.

Face masks are sold out "everywhere," he said, but he believes that suppliers will fill the gap soon.

As for respirators, Tammabattula said he has found companies ready and able to ship them from outside the country, but red tape makes that difficult.

"We have sources of many off-shore companies trying to reach out to us to help bring their product into the U.S. and to help meet the need," he said.

"But with the current situation we have with transportation, with all flights shut off and cargo cut off into the U.S., it's hard to bring any of those products in."