There is a gold rush to be found in the hand sanitiser market now, it seems. Or else, nothing explains the entry of Berger Paints Bangladesh into this domain, which is so far removed from its bread-and-butter of decorative paint.
Since coronavirus arrived on these shores, a slew of companies entered the business to meet the growing demand for hand sanitisers and alcohol-based hand rubs.
Most health officials and disease specialists say one of the best preventive measures against the coronavirus or any other outbreak is frequent washing of hands, using soap and water to scrub fronts, backs and between fingers for at least 20 seconds.
If soap and water are not available, hand sanitisers would suffice, as long as it contains at least 60 per cent alcohol and the gel is squirted onto the hands and rubbed briskly all over them for about 20 seconds.
Regardless, people could not stop seeking out for hand sanitisers following the announcement of the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Bangladesh on March 8. So hysterical was the demand that supermarkets had to take them off the shelves and keep them at the counters and ration them to one each customer.
The demand had levelled off after the announcement of countrywide shutdown from March 26 as people were staying indoors and have access to soap and water.
But it started to pick up again once the shutdown was lifted at the start of June and people started venturing out of their homes, creating the perfect moment for the country's leading paint maker to break into the market with its offering, Berger Mr Expert Advanced Hand Sanitiser.
The product comes in a 250ml bottle and carries a price tag of Tk 180.
Hand sanitisers, as part of personal hygiene, have been playing an important role in preventing the spread of coronavirus, said AKM Sadeque Nawaj, general manager for marketing at Berger Paints Bangladesh.
"And being one of the oldest and renowned companies of the country, we believe it is our responsibility to contribute as much as possible during such a situation. The introduction of Berger Mr Expert Advanced Hand Sanitiser is part of that endeavour," he added.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended two alcohol-based sanitiser formulations to prevent the spread of coronavirus as not all formulations are effective.
Berger is commercially producing its hand sanitisers by following the formulation of WHO, the company said in a statement yesterday.
The company has already received all the necessary approvals and permissions from the Department of Narcotics Control of Bangladesh.
The country's lone state-owned distillery Carew & Co started making hand sanitisers in Chuadanga. It started selling a 100ml bottle at Tk 60 since late March.
"Our hand sanitisers consist of 60 to 70 per cent rectified spirit, glycerine, colour and fragrance. Expert chemists have been involved with the production and this sanitiser can kill any virus instantly," a top official of Carew & Co told The Daily Star.
In the middle of April, India's Marico, a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, announced its foray into the hand sanitiser category.
Marico's hand sanitiser -- Mediker SafeLife -- comes in two sizes. The 40ml one costs Tk 100 and 75ml Tk 150.
Among the local ones, Square Toiletries now has the capacity of producing 15 to 20 tonnes of hand sanitisers a day.
The demand fluctuates with the number of confirmed cases and deaths by the disease, said Jesmin Zaman, head of marketing at Square Toiletries, which sells 'Sepnil' brand hand sanitisers.
"If the fatalities and the cases are high, people run to the pharmacy to buy sanitisers."
So many new players are entering the market making people ambivalent about whose product is trusted, she said.
Square manufactured about 10 tonnes of hand sanitisers in March, up from only 1 tonne a month earlier.
Another local FMCG giant ACI has been producing 80-90 tonnes of Savlon-branded hand sanitiser for the last few months, up from only 5 tonnes before the coronavirus outbreak.
People should use antiseptic soap rather than hand sanitisers, said Syed Alamgir, managing director of ACI Consumer Brands.
"Because, soaps are low-priced than hand sanitisers and they are more effective than the liquids in killing germs. We could have ramped up our production further if there were enough supply of containers and raw materials in time," he added.