Meet the Manchester gin business making hand sanitiser for the NHS

Meet the Manchester gin business making hand sanitiser for the NHS

Posted: Tue 14th Apr 2020

Didsbury Gin has grown rapidly since launching in 2017. In the last 12 months, they've gone from £40,000 turnover to £1.5m. Then - coronavirus.

It's been a turbulent few months for businesses around the world. For Didsbury Gin, the company was hit hardest by the closure of bars and restaurants.

"I'm fully supportive of the lockdown because we need to stay safe," co-founder Liam Manton explained. "But from a business perspective, it's had a massive impact. One of our largest revenue streams was switched off overnight."

Fortunately, Didsbury Gin could still generate revenue through its supermarket sales. Liam initially planned on relying on this trade to weather the storm, but then came a change of plan.

Producing a completely new product

The company was approached by Greater Manchester Police to create hand sanitiser. It was something the team hadn't made before, but they started playing with formulations.

"Within a week of lockdown, we'd diversified our production capacity and produced the equivalent of one million units of hand sanitiser for the NHS, police and fire services. We were producing something we'd never done before at a staggering volume," Liam said.

Didsbury investor and Dragon Jenny Campbell celebrated the team's ability to move so quickly.

HAND SANITIZER - very proud of my @DidsburyGin team who within 7 days of the request for help had produced the equivalent of 1 Million 50ml bottles of anti-bacterial hand sanitiser for emergency, health and support services. E;

— JennyBCampbell (@jennybcampbell) April 1, 2020

The biggest hurdle has been the unsustainable price hiking of ethanol, which is the key component of hand sanitiser.

"It's been going up 20% week on week. We've made a lot of noise in the press about the behaviour and ethics of some of these suppliers," he added.

Connecting with other business owners

Despite the continued production of gin and hand sanitiser, the business is still fighting uncertainty. Many aspects of the business are outsourced, so safe distancing measures have slowed things down. Distribution, in particular, has been a challenge.

"You don't know whether you're going to get deliveries. People could call in sick at any point. The journey's uncertain. We're just doing the best we can, like all our partners," Liam said.

Liam recommends reaching out to people in your network when trying to deal with the uncertainty of coronavirus has caused. Everyone's going through a tough time, but talking to advisors and peers will help you feel less alone. Support networks like Manchester-based The Growth Company have helped the team a lot recently.

"I've spoken to more business owners in the last two weeks than the last two years! Not just in my industry either. There's a lot of knowledge and goodwill at the moment. It's important business owners support each other. We're all part of a regional ecosystem - now is the time to put competition aside and do what you do," he said.

The future of Didsbury Gin

Liam isn't sure what will come next for the business. It's been frustrating to hit pause on growing the business, particularly when they had invested so much in distribution. But there isn't much they can do.

"We're still a gin business and our ambitions are still there. But at the moment, we're just trying to produce as much hand sanitiser as we can. While we can help, we'll carry on doing that."

Kat is a writer for Enterprise Nation, The Pitch and Side Hustle Club. She's worked with small businesses for the last four years, championing Britain's startup scene and anyone who has snacks. 

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