Hand Sanitizer 2.0 – HAPPI

The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) last week announced plans to end the temporary guidance on hand sanitizers. The guidance was put into action during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to increase supply of this vital hygiene product. Companies ranging from local distilleries to fragrance houses to cosmetics companies rushed into the category. Their reasons range from altruistic to the quest for the almighty dollar. Consumers were swiping products off store shelves in record numbers. Retailers were searching high and low to find stock—and were taking any product to add to their barren shelves. 
But in that flurry, came products that were, in fact, dangerous. FDA in January issued a nationwide import alert stop all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico from coming into the US market. It was the first time the FDA had issued a countrywide import alert for any category of drug product. More than 200 product recalls were announced. 

Safety aside, there were plenty of hand sanitizers in circulation that were simply far from appealing. Often, consumers wouldn’t know exactly what they were about to dispense onto their hands. It was like a game of Russian roulette. Would it be too sticky? Too watery? Would there be a lingering odor?
But with concerns about their health the priority, they pumped away. 
“At the time of greatest consumer need, unfortunately the industry delivered the lowest possible quality product,” Olika CEO Alastair Dorward told Happi in a phone interview. 
Dorward is also chief brand officer at bio-tech company Amyris, which acquired Olika in June.  
According to Dorward, the consumer experience with hand sanitizers declined for myriad reasons—from unsafe products to products that delivered a poor olfactory experience to formulations that cracked skin or left consumers with hands that smelled like tequila or worse. 

Alastair Dorward

Prior to the pandemic, household penetration of hand sanitizers was just under 20% and FDM sales were around $300 million a year. In 2020, the category saw an extraordinary spike. Sales of hand sanitizers skyrocketed to more than $1.5 billion.


The category isn’t likely to reach those highs again, but will finish 2021 significantly ahead of 2019 again, according to experts tracking the sector.


But, with flu season ramping up in the US (and the COVID pandemic still lingering), the hand sanitizer sector is in need of a reboot—it needs to deliver better experience, insists Dorward.


“And that is what Oilka is all about,” he said. 


Olika, which means “differently” in Swedish Olika was co-founded by Jessica Postiglione, Nicolas Perkin and Thorne Perkin in 2015. Dorward came on board in 2019. His background in commercializing household, personal care and food brands includes Method Products, Own Beauty and Smitten Ice Cream. As the founding CEO of Method, he helped grow the household brand from pre-revenue to more than $100 million in wholesale revenue. 


Olika incorporates hydrating ingredients and “high caliber” ethyl alcohol in its hand sanitizers. Its 65% ethyl alcohol-based spray formula includes glycerin, an essential oil blend, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, citral, limonene and linalool. (And Olika’s chemists have been exploring other beneficial ingredients , some of which are expected to debut in 2022.)


Consumers can pick from a range of scents that currently include lavender, mint citrus, orange blossom, cucumber basil, charcoal (described as a woodsy fragrance) and fragrance free.


The hand sanitizer spray is sold in a clip-on bottle (300 mists), which can be quickly attached to purse or backpack, or a free standing 1oz. bottle that holds more than 500 mists. Both are refillable. 


According to Dorward, 50% of first time consumers who are buying online are buying the refill, a pouch that holds 1,500 sprays. 


Olika hits on two trending sweet spots: personalization and sustainability.


Olika’s refill is a pouch that contains 1,500 doses.

It’s that tact that will set the brand apart in this commoditized category where some retailers today are still clogged with inventory.
In addition, Dorward contends consumer parameters in other segments—think clean beauty, sustainability, fragrance and design—are ripe for this historically medicinal and functional category.
Dorward said Olika operates with the consumer’s journey and lifestyle in mind. 
“There is a need for something else that changes that experience. And that’s where we are seeing tremendous traction and interest from all facets of retail,” he told Happi.

As reported in Happi, hand hygiene brands experienced major supply chain issues in 2020; Olika was no exception. Dorward recalled difficulties with high-quality ethyl alcohol, in particular. 
Currently, componentry is more of a concern.
But its acquisition by Amyris in June will benefit Olika as it navigates any supply chain issues.
“The good news, now being part of Amyris, we do have a new range of vendors and logistical support, and just more heft,” he said. 
Dorward continued, “As a small, little startup business, a pip squeak, privately held, you can beg and plead. As part of a larger business with other brands, you can get a little bit more leverage. But it is still a problem for everyone—whether you are the largest or the smallest,” he added, noting current supply chain pressures brands are feeling right now. 
Another benefit of being part of the Amyris family is added R&D strength

Amyris has a robust ingredient pipeline.

Dorward called the Amyris roster of ingredients (13 of which have been commercialized and another 24 that are in active development) as an “exceptional tool kit” for any brand in beauty and hygiene. 
And it is on that footing that Olika will head into 2022 with a plan to move beyond hand sanitizers.
“Overall, what we have found is that the Olika brand has the ability to take hygiene categories that are kind of ‘ought to do,’ but don’t have a particularly great experience in making part of your daily regimen, and really turning it into ‘want to,’” he said. “Elevating something that is commoditized and making a truly a desirable pleasant experience—that is the brand essence that will allow us to play…and do more in hand hygiene beyond hand sanitizer.”
Dorward kept close to the vest about specific product launches and timing, but Olika is exploring many options.
Dorward said the team is “leveraging a lot of the insight and technologies from Amyris to unlock Olika as a broader hygiene brand over the next several years.”
“As they say, ‘watch this space,’” he concluded.

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