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Spirit of York Head Distiller Mark Harrop bottles distillery-made hand sanitizer in Toronto on March 18, 2020.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Many distilleries and breweries that pivoted their operations to make hand sanitizer in the early days of COVID-19 have since walked away from this side business.

Health Canada granted temporary authorization to companies with the capabilities to manufacture hand sanitizers when the pandemic hit and the skin disinfectant was flying off shelves.

Calgary-based Annex Ale Project brewery was one of the early businesses to make the pivot because of initial demand but co-owner Andrew Bullied said in an interview that the transition was “a very difficult, taxing process.”

Like many businesses, Annex Ale Project closed its tap room for in-house consumption when restrictions and lockdowns kicked in. With revenue falling, Bullied and his team joined forced with Two River Distillery and Raft Beer Labs to start making hand sanitizer, selling them at their location and to retailers.

Bullied cited the costs associated with putting everything together, including packaging, as one of the main challenges.

Although they were able to “generate a return” very quickly, initial profits dissipated immediately along with sales as global producers of hand sanitizer ramped up production and the understanding of how COVID-19 spreads evolved, he explained.

Annex Ale Project decided on their own to stop producing hand sanitizer completely in late 2021.

Bullied said that it “wasn’t fun enough” to continue doing any more, but notes that it was “interesting” to be able to see how local manufacturing could “step up” and modify their processes.

Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg, N.S. produced hand sanitizer from March, 2020 to September, 2020, only a few months.

“It made no sense at all for us to compete against major manufacturers who had the economies of scale on their side,” Lynne MacKay, Ironworks Distillery’s co-owner said in an interview. “Our costs for making sanitizer were never going to be easily recouped.”

It’s not only the small businesses that jumped on board, with Labatt Breweries of Canada, among other producers.

In British Columbia, distilleries and breweries that are still producing hand sanitizer have been ordered by the provincial government to cease production by May 8.

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