Katom Restaurant Supply produces hand sanitizer during coronavirus

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After most hand sanitizer products went out of stock, East Tennessee company KaTom Restaurant Supply began manufacturing its own with the help of some Tennessee partners.

So far, they’ve sold 20,000 gallons of liquid hand sanitizer in about four weeks, KaTom vice president of operations Charley Bible said, in a bid to capture a promising revenue stream as many restaurants remain closed or operating at half capacity during the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID will usher in a new foundation of sanitation practices for businesses and individuals,” Bible said. “That being said, I see hand sanitizer being one of those things that’s much more readily available.”

KaTom sells liquid hand sanitizer

The company typically sells gel-based sanitizer dispensers with cartridge refills from Rubbermaid. Those cartridges were on order through September, Bible said.

KaTom is working with a producer in Nashville to manufacture its own product. Clean Up K-SAN is over 80% alcohol and is made with hydrogen peroxide, xanthan gum, glycerin, food grade ethanol and denatured alcohol. The company has also submitted the product to the EPA to be certified as a surface disinfectant.

They found a supplier of one-gallon commercial containers, designed a label using the Clean Up By KaTom brand, and worked with a label producer in just a few weeks.

KaTom receives the sanitizer in 250 gallon tubs, so Bible needed a crew to bottle and package the product. He called Stanton Webster, co-owner of PostModern Spirits in downtown Knoxville.

After Webster’s restaurant and bar liquor distribution sales plummeted 95% and he was forced to lay off his staff, the opportunity to serve as a packing arm on the production line meant he could keep its employees paid; six of them chose to return to work.

PostModern employees fill the one-gallon jugs with hand sanitizer, label them and pack them into cases of four to ship the same day.

“Being a small business allows us to be nimble and really pivot (to focus) on one type of function here in the supply chain,” Webster said.

Touchless sanitizer dispenser on the way

Because the sanitizer is liquid, not foam or gel, very little is needed per use. KaTom worked with a pump manufacturer to install a 1/8 ounce pump on a gallon cap so the jug could easily be turned into a dispenser. The pump is sold separately for $34.99.

Four gallons of hand sanitizer sells for $219.99. Locally, PostModern Spirits sells it by the gallon or by the case.

KaTom just received a prototype automatic touchless hand sanitizer dispenser that uses 1/16 ounce per spray. Unlike many dispensers, customers do not need to purchase cartridge refills, but instead pour the sanitizer directly into a reservoir.

KaTom will receive a shipment of a few thousand dispensers in mid-May; these $50 dispensers have already been sold out.

Bible estimated the company sells an average of 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer in a typical year. This increased revenue stream will likely become a permanent addition, Bible said.

KaTom has also teamed up with Marc Nelson Denim to produce fabric masks, which will soon be available for sale. Mandatory mask use is one of the semi-permanent changes Bible expects to see in the restaurant industry.

“Right now, it’s hard to find distributors (for sale) anywhere. Refills are exhausted. Customers call us who have a Purell or Rubbermaid or one of the name brand solutions. businesses and it goes to the US government, hospitals and first responders,” Bible said. “There was no solution for the main street, I guess you would call it. And that’s what we created.”

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