Canadian Manufacturing

Q&A: Charlie Angelakos, Labatt Breweries of Canada

The brewer recently started producing hand sanitizer to help combat COVID-19. Angelakos talks about that process

March 30, 2020  by Will Mazgay, Editor

Charlie Angelakos, vice-president, legal and corporate affairs, Labatt Breweries of Canada

On March 23, Labatt Breweries of Canada announced plans to restart its Canadian Disaster Relief Program, this time to make hand sanitizer to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company said in a statement that initial production will result in 50,000 bottles of hand sanitizer that will be donated to support Food Banks Canada, front line workers, and partners in the restaurant and bar industry.

Labatt also explained that select Canadian facilities would commence the production of hand sanitizer effective immediately. This includes Labatt Breweries facilities in London, Ont.; Edmonton, Alta.; and Montreal, Que.; Goodridge & Williams in Vancouver, B.C.; and Mill Street Beer Hall in Toronto, Ont.

Charlie Angelakos, vice-president, legal and corporate affairs, Labatt Breweries of Canada, talked about the initiative in more detail with Canadian Manufacturing.

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Canadian Manufacturing: What is the Canadian Disaster Relief program and what has it been used for in the past?

Charlie Angelakos: Labatt’s Disaster Relief Program was launched in 2012 as a vehicle for us to provide support to communities across Canada in need of assistance during major disasters. In the past, we’ve activated the program by shifting production at our facilities from beer to drinking water. Since 2012, Labatt has provided a total of 460,000 cans of clean drinking water to residents and on-the-ground responders in need, including in Fort McMurray during the 2016 wildfires and to communities along the St. John River in New Brunswick in 2018 when the province was faced with the worst flooding in decades. The production of hand sanitizer is the 12th activation of the program and the first non-water production.

CM: What changes did you need to make to your manufacturing facilities and equipment to accommodate the shift from beer and coolers to hand sanitizer?

CA: The first step was to identify any facilities that are rated for flammable liquids. The process is not automated, but manual – all the mixing, filling, labeling and packaging is done by hand. In order to prepare for the production we had to source and purchase two of the necessary ingredients – hydrogen peroxide and glycerol, as well as the bottles — we already have the alcohol. The sanitizer we’re producing has 80% alcohol content.

We employed small brewing tanks already on the premises and purchased a small manual bottle filler. We also had a number of shipping considerations to deal with as hand sanitizer must be handled as a “dangerous good.” We worked with Health Canada to obtain all the necessary labeling approvals and produced the hand sanitizer to standards set by the World Health Organization.

We also worked very closely with Health Canada to get their advice and guidance on how to help out in the safest and most efficient way possible.

CM: Did this process require broadening your supply chains?

CA: When we started this process, it did require that we expand our network to new suppliers who have the specific ingredients, bottles and packaging required to produce the hand sanitizer. We were fortunate to have found suppliers who were more than willing to step up and expedite the process so we could get the materials we needed quickly, get production underway and get the hand sanitizer to where it is needed.

CM: What challenges does this project pose?

CA: The safety of our employees is an absolute priority. The manual mixing and packing process must be done safely in a room that is rated for flammable liquids. In addition, sourcing materials presented some challenges as the required materials are in high demand.

Initially, we were able to locate 50,000 250 milliliter bottles relatively quickly to accommodate our first batch. Locating more bottles has been a major challenge but we have succeeded there as well.

CM: You have an initial plan for 50,000 bottles. What are the next steps once this goal is met?

CA: We have been able to procure another 50,000 bottles.

In terms of next steps, we are monitoring developments around COVID-19 closely and will continue to do everything we can to help support the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Our goal is to continue producing more hand sanitizer as long as there is a need.

CM: Why did you decide to partner with Food Banks Canada on this project?

CA: As we watched this crisis evolve, we learned that many Canadians impacted by it are turning to food banks for assistance. Food bank employees across Canada are working hard every day to continue serving those in need, so they clearly have a great need for hand sanitizer. With the help and direction of Food Banks Canada and their national network, we’re able to distribute sanitizer to communities across Canada where the sanitizer is most needed.

We are also distributing it to our business-critical employees in our breweries, distribution centres and front-line sales, and to front-line staff in restaurants that offer take-out and delivery to support social distancing in their communities.