Lysol maker ramps up production as coronavirus pandemic drives demand

Martin Choi, South China Morning Post

Posted at Apr 06 2020 08:14 AM | Updated as of Apr 06 2020 08:15 AM

An attendee holds a container of Lysol disinfecting wipes as San Francisco Mayor London Breed (R) speaks during a press conference at San Francisco City Hall on March 16, 2020 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan, Getty Images/AFP

Reckitt Benckiser, the company that makes Dettol disinfectant and Lysol cleaning products, has been working round the clock to keep its factories running to meet growing demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to a global scramble for personal hygiene products such as disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers, and even necessities such as toilet rolls. Supermarket shelves have been cleared of these products, and their price has soared on online retail stores.

The company's brands, including Dettol and Lysol, have seen "a significant increase" in demand, chief executive Laxman Narasimhan said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

The British company has a portfolio of consumer health, hygiene and nutrition brands, such as Vanish, Veet, Gaviscon, Strepsils, and Durex.

"At the end of the day, our mission is to protect, and we're doing everything we can to meet the demand to ensure that the products are available for our consumers. It isn't easy, given everything else that is going on, but we're doing our best to ensure that our products are available," he said.

To meet the increase in consumer demand, Dettol and Lysol factories were running at maximum capacity, and in many cases this meant operating three shifts, compared to the normal one or two shifts per day, Narasimhan noted.

He said the company has been working around the clock to make sure there is sufficient supply of ingredients and raw materials to its factories.

"We have increased production in many parts of the world," Narasimhan said. "We're simplifying what we do to get the most out of our factories, so that products that are needed right now can be made available."

One of the company's largest Dettol factories is situated in Hubei province, around 50 kilometers away from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus, according to Narasimhan.

"Our factory (in Hubei) hasn't stopped running. It has been running all the way through. We've taken a great deal of precautions to ensure that we keep things safe," he said.

Emergency measures were put in place to ensure that all regulations and safety protocol were followed at factories where the company's front-line employees worked, he added.

All Reckitt Benckiser's 5 factories in China, its second largest market, are currently operational.

It is now building a new Dettol and Durex manufacturing facility in Taicang, in Jiang Su province. The project is ongoing, and is expected to be ready in a few years' time, he said.

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the business has seen increased online activity from customers, particularly in China.

"As the crisis has hit, we see the consumer turning to e-commerce to ensure they can get the product. E-commerce is a very important part of our business, over 10 percent of our business, and has doubled over the last few years. We expect this to continue," said Narasimhan.

In the long term, the company was "absolutely committed" to China, he said.

"I started my first day and my first week as CEO in China (last September), to signal the importance of the country and to signal the importance of our future in the country.

"China is a very important market for us. It has been, and it will be going forward as well. We are committed to the country.

"We know that things will normalize, and that our portfolio is well positioned for the long term and for growth."

In the early stages of the outbreak in January, the company donated 50 million yuan ($7.1 million) in cash and antibacterial products to combat the virus in China.

The company's Dettol brand has committed 6 million pounds ($7.46 million) to front-line health workers in Wuhan as part of their Fight for Access Fund launched last week to improve access to health, hygiene and nutrition.

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