Even though Square Toiletries Limited began production of hand sanitisers in 2007 for use in hospitals and clinics, it could market only 20 tonnes annually in the 13 years till the end of 2019.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic made inroads into the country, the company has been manufacturing and marketing 60-70 tonnes of hand sanitisers per day with demand for hygiene products skyrocketing. It also has had to turn a few other production lines into sanitiser units to meet the growing needs.
Malik Mohammed Sayeed, head of operations at Square Toiletries, told The Business Standard, "Earlier, we had to keep our single unit inoperative for the rest of the month after running it only for a day. But we are now struggling to meet rising demand even after running production 24 hours a day on six production lines."
Moreover, production and sales of other hygiene products, such as soap, hand rub, liquid antiseptic, wipes and sanitary napkins have also experienced a significant rise, he added.
Not only Square but all consumer goods companies as well have expanded their businesses amid a growing demand for hygiene products, spurred by the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
Unilever Bangladesh, Reckitt Benckiser, ACI, Kohinoor Chemicals, Keya Cosmetics and other major brands have begun production of hand sanitisers and liquid disinfectants along with increasing the production of soaps and detergent powders.
Besides, more than 100 small and big companies have entered the market.
There was a huge demand for hygiene items during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, and keeping that in mind, the country's businesses have gone for bigger production since Covid-19 hit the globe.
For example, Square Toiletries conducted a market assessment to see demand for hygiene products, and accordingly, it imported raw materials and went into production a week before the first coronavirus case was detected in Bangladesh.
Cleaning floors by using liquid antiseptic at home has now become a normal thing. As a result, such liquids are also being sold extensively, said Rafiqul Islam, a shopkeeper in the capital's Segunbagicha area.
"I would sell two or three bottles of Savlon Liquid a day earlier. After the coronavirus outbreak, I could not get its supply from the company for a while because of low production. I have been selling 30-35 bottles a day for the last three months," he said.
Syed Alamgir, managing director at ACI Limited, said the market for the company's Savlon Liquid and antiseptic cream was around Tk34 crore before the pandemic with demand from 10 lakh people. Now, 17 crore people need it. Thus, sales have multiplied.
Analysts say the market for hygienic products, including detergent powder, amounting to Tk5,000 crore, will exceed the Tk10,000 crore mark this year. Only the Tk500 crore market for hand sanitisers and other liquid items will reach Tk5,000 crore, they add.
Demand for hand sanitiser and liquid antiseptic touches the sky
On March 8, after the first coronavirus patient was identified in the country, people were making a dash for buying hand sanitisers. Initially, there was a severe crisis in the market for the product.
Reckitt Benckiser, ACI, Eskayef Pharmaceuticals, Incepta, Beximco, ACME Laboratories, Ibn Sina, Popular Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies quickly started producing hand sanitisers in the country.
Next came Marico Bangladesh, Berger paints, Carew & Co and hundreds of small and large companies, including Unilever Bangladesh and Walton.
As a result, the hand sanitiser business began to skyrocket with growing demand.
An official at Square Toiletries, the country's largest company, said the firm has to supply 60-70 tonnes of hand sanitisers per day at present although it used to produce and market 15-20 tonnes a year previously.
The official said the demand for handwash had increased by 4-5 times and the same had been true of other disinfectant products.
In addition to hand sanitisers, the demand for products such as hand rubs, liquid antiseptics, baby wipes and sanitary napkins has also grown significantly.
An official at ACI, the second largest consumer goods manufacturer in Bangladesh, said the growth of hygiene products, apart from hand sanitisers, had been more than 100 percent so far. "We are not able to supply the products as per demand."
Soap market grows to 35% from 2%
Previously in Bangladesh, beauty soap and laundry soap were commonly used. But due to the coronavirus, the sale of these soaps as well as antiseptic soaps has also increased.
In addition to increasing the production of existing soaps, many companies have also come up with new soaps that are more effective against germs.
Malik Mohammed Sayeed, head of operations at Square Toiletries, said, "We have started production and marketing of Sepnil soap in addition to the existing Meril brand. In all, soap has a 40 percent growth."
Unilever, which controls about 60 percent of the country's market, saw a record growth in soap sales during the pandemic. Sales of the country's best brands like Dove, Lifebuoy, Lux and Wheel have increased by 30 percent.
Other local and foreign companies, like Reckitt Benckiser, ACI, Kohinoor Chemicals and Keya Cosmetics, have seen similar sales growth.
However, before the epidemic, global soap growth was below 2 percent and slightly above 2 percent in Bangladesh.
Market for counterfeit products developing
Initially, counterfeit disinfectants were spread in alleys in different cities, including Dhaka, taking advantage of the lack of capacity of established brands, including raw materials.
Personnel of the law enforcing agencies have also arrested many people selling fake products in the name of established companies.
In April, a Rapid Action Battalion-3 team fined a businessman in Old Dhaka Tk5 lakh for producing fake hand sanitisers and a trader in Khilgaon Tk4 lakh. In May, police raided a house in Chandpur and seized a stockpile of fake Savlon, arresting several people in the process. In many places, notably Chattogram and Jashore, various low quality disinfectants, including fake sanitisers, have been sold throughout the month.
ACI itself also issued a notification expressing concern over the duplication of its products.
Malik Mohammed Sayeed said, "At least 100 brands of sanitisers have been sold in the market with the misspelling of the word "sanitiser" due to counterfeiting. Hundreds of fake companies will be found if operations are undertaken."
He said that these counterfeit products were not manufactured in accordance with health rules.
High quality hand sanitiser is made with 75 percent isopropyl alcohol, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide, in line with the formula of the World Health Organization.
Malik Mohammad Sayeed of Square Toiletries, the first sanitiser manufacturer in the country, said, "We started producing sanitisers a week before the coronavirus was detected in Bangladesh. We also collected raw materials."
"As other large corporations faced shortages of raw materials and did not have enough capacity, counterfeiters produced false items on a massive scale."