Skip to content

Leeds Sanitiser truck

How we’re adapting deodorant production lines to make hand sanitizer

As part of global efforts to use our expertise and resources to help tackle coronavirus, we have adapted one of our deodorant manufacturing lines in the UK to produce much-needed supplies of hand sanitizer for the NHS.

Having never manufactured hand sanitizer at our Leeds factory before, we were pleased, on 2 April, to be able to supply our first batch of more than 700 liters to St James’s University Hospital, part of the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust. Our aim is to donate further product to support the local NHS in the coming weeks.

It’s thanks to the efforts of employees from across Unilever and the rapid response of our suppliers – with materials, packaging and labels – that we have been able to scale up production of the hand sanitizer from laboratory trials to factory production in just four days.

“This has been a massive collective effort by teams within our business and our suppliers, while many are remote working,” says Jason Sutcliffe, Unilever’s Beauty & Personal Care Supply Chain Manager who has been leading this initiative. “We have all wanted to get involved so we can do our bit to help those on the frontline. We’re just pleased we’re able to contribute in this way.”

Team effort by employees, suppliers and partners

With stringent health and safety requirements around the use of ethanol (alcohol) – the main ingredient in hand sanitizer – our Leeds factory was well-placed to start producing supplies quickly, as ethanol is already used in some of the products manufactured at the site.

As well as working on the formulation of the product, we needed to check that all the necessary safety measures were in place and to sanitize the equipment. We then had to source the raw materials and packaging, with some ingredients already on-site and others coming from Unilever facilities elsewhere in the UK and Europe, as well as from third-party suppliers. More than 10,000 bulk containers were shipped to us by our suppliers within just hours of requesting them.

In order to ensure we could make an effective product, and to identify any potential issues, we made a small trial batch in our on-site pilot plant. Experts from across our business were called on to advise on all aspects of producing the hand sanitizer from hygiene regulations, to quality control, to transport safety.

Our design agency and label supplier went over and above to provide labelling, with the necessary regulatory information included to ensure compliance and traceability, in just over a day.

Jon Strachan, VP Supply Chain, Unilever UK & Ireland, says: “With hand sanitizer in short supply and much needed to help protect NHS staff in the fight against coronavirus, we’re pleased to have been able to switch over some of our production at our Leeds deodorant factory to make it there.

“I want to thank our factory team – who pulled out all the stops to get the production up and running – as well as a number of our supply, engineering and logistics partners who have supported us generously and at speed, for making this possible.”

Over the last two months, we have scaled up production of hand sanitizer to help communities and individuals stay protected against the virus. We currently have more than 30 factories making this essential product for people all over the world. A lot of this supply is being donated to frontline healthcare facilities.

In many cases, to meet the demand, we have been repurposing our production lines which ordinarily make other beauty and personal care products. We have also set up new facilities. For example, in Vietnam, we set up a factory from scratch in just 25 days. And in South Africa, where our products were previously imported, we have started producing them locally.

In addition to ramping up the amount of product we’re able to make, we’re also exploring how we can use existing packaging formats to make the production and filling process significantly quicker.

Read more about how Unilever is working with a range of partners in the UK and Ireland to provide help and support to hospitals and communities during the Covid-19 crisis.