During the initial phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, hand sanitizers quickly sold out in Sweden and became a scarce commodity. Even the healthcare system was affected by the shortage of sufficient antibacterial solutions. In an effort to aid the hardworking medical staff at the Swedish hospitals, SACCNY member Absolut Vodka offered to help manufacture spirits to be used in the production of hand sanitizers. And the response was massive. We had a quick chat with Paula Eriksson, Vice President, Corporate Affairs & Communications at The Absolut Company, about the way things unfolded.

Paula Eriksson, Vice President, Corporate Affairs & Communications at The Absolut Company.

How did Absolut Vodka get involved in making hand sanitizer?

Absolut started making hand sanitizer for our own use already in connection with the swine flu. After all, we have the means to do this and the idea was to not use up resources from others to do something that we, ourselves, could produce. When we found out that Swedish hospitals were suffering from a lack of hand sanitizers due to the current COVID-19 situation, we realized that we could scale up our own production and help out.

Liquor companies throughout the world have now pivoted to producing hand sanitizer and Absolut was one of the first companies to respond to the urgent global demand. How was it for Absolut to enter a new market?

Our biggest challenge in all this was entering a different supply chain than we are used to. We’re experts in producing drinkable spirits, but not spirits meant for sanitizing. Therefore, we contacted a number of authorities such as the Regions (former County Councils), the Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), the National Board of Health (Socialstyrelsen) and the Ministry for Home Affairs to clarify how to go about this most efficiently. It was really important that the producers we worked with had all the right prerequisites to produce exactly what the health services in the Regions demanded.

How did the companies that produce hand sanitizers react?

Overwhelmingly positive. We started investigating why there was an ethanol shortage and learned that stocks actually were low even before COVID-19 hit. When it became known that we could offer to supply local producers with spirits, we were contacted by the health care management in the regions Skåne and Stockholm, asking us to deliver ethanol for them to blend their own hand sanitizers. That’s how acute the shortage was. Luckily, we could help them right away, but eventually, we got all the necessary permits sorted and could start to deliver spirits to the producers instead of directly to the hospitals.

Following numerous new initiatives, reorganization, and development of new products, how do you see your industry changing post-pandemic?

Locally, I think we’ll see a boom in domestic travel. More people are going to want to discover all the great things that are offered within our nations’ borders. And that’s a good thing for local producers. I think Swedes are going to discover and treasure local produce in a whole new way post-Coronavirus pandemic.

On an international level, I think people will turn to brands they know and feel familiar with. And that’s good for a brand like Absolut, which already has high credibility and brand awareness globally. I also think that the home-tainment trend will persist and become even more established. We know how to do this properly now and we kind of like it, even though it’s, of course, also nice to be able to go to bars, restaurants, venues and festivals again when permitted.

Absolut has a longstanding and strong commitment to sustainability and has set good health and wellbeing as a prioritized organizational goal. How will your work in achieving this goal be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, actually the way that we could help solve the hand sanitizer crisis was a good example of the importance of this goal. I think it really made us come closer together and that we grew as a company. This was something that all employees felt good about – knowing that they could help make a difference and help the community. And we will continue working with initiatives that make all our staff feel good and proud of their place of work – at TAC and at Pernod Ricard.

The Absolut Company is a SACCNY business member that is a global spirit company leading in the shift to retool spirit companies’ production capabilities to support medical and healthcare workers facing COVID-19 on a daily basis. If you are interested in getting in touch with The Absolut Company, please reach out to the SACCNY team and we can get you connected.