Production ‘Explodes’ at Puerto Rico-based Disinfectant-maker
Pandemic-triggered Demand Forcing Gascó Industrial to Find New Raw Material Sources
SAN JUAN – One of the leading manufacturers in Puerto Rico has ramped up production of much-needed hand sanitizer, detergent and disinfectants amid the Covid-19 pandemic, despite increasing problems with the accessibility of raw material.
Dan Bigman Montalvo, CEO of Gascó Industrial, which makes environmentally friendly detergents, disinfectants and pesticides for industrial and retail use, said production at the company’s Gurabo plant had to be increased three-fold in the last few weeks to meet burgeoning demand due to the novel coronavirus emergency.
The company specifically hiked production of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, antibacterial soap and various disinfectants, all of which are in demand during the current crisis, he said.
“This has been an explosion for us during the past few weeks, receiving constant calls and emails from many people and companies, including multinationals that need our products to continue functioning,” Bigman told Caribbean Business. “We have sold to pharmaceutical and medical device companies such as Amgen and Medtronic. We have had to quickly increase our manufacturing capacity. We are working as quickly as possible, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.”
While Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s March 15 executive order mandated the closing of non-essential businesses on the island, manufacturing facilities were allowed to continue operating during the curfew/lockdown, which the governor extended to April 12.
Gascó’s sales, which average about $3 million a year, have shot up tenfold, Bigman said.
“Now we are selling about a million dollars a week. We have never had an experience like this,” he said, noting that the plant has had to hire more workers and add another shift. “We had a spike in sales during the [influenza] A(H1N1) pandemic [in 2009], but the sales increase then was just 10 percent of the increase we are having now with the coronavirus. After Hurricane Maria, there was also an increase in sales but small compared to this.”
Clients have helped Gascó manage the abrupt increase in production by loaning it packaging equipment and making payments in advance for ordered products, Bigman said, adding that this has allowed the company to have enough cash flow to continue buying raw materials such as alcohol. Orders for hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants have also been coming in from new overseas clients, from such locations as St. Thomas, Panama and Mexico, he said, noting that these clients got wind of Gascó products through online referrals, particularly on Facebook.
Nonetheless, Bigman said Gascó is giving priority to customers in the health industry and the essential businesses that remain open in Puerto Rico, “so they can continue working.” He said the company started preparing for the effects of the pandemic in mid-February, when he started hearing about “the virus getting out of control in China.”
“We began to make plans and we had meetings with our employees to see if we needed to stock up. We gave out bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant to our employees to use in their homes. We gave them talks about the disease and the symptoms,” the University of Puerto Rico doctoral chemistry graduate said. “Up until now, thank God, no one has been affected. We are cleaning [the plant] twice as much as we did before, including the door knobs. We have something like an internal lockdown and meet with visitors and clients in the parking lot under a tent. We have other employees working remotely from their homes.”
Despite not having any symptoms, a plant employee who returned from a trip to North Carolina was sent home for a quarantine period as a preventive measure, Bigman said, noting that the action responded to “our understanding that there a number of people who may have the virus but are asymptomatic.” He said he was told that Covid-19 testing would be administered only to people with symptoms due to the limited number of tests.
While Bigman said the company stocked up with raw materials in February in anticipation of supply chain complications due to the pandemic, he added that in the past few days “the logistics have become a little complicated.”
“The process of entering materials to the island through the airports and the ports is much slower, about two or three days slower than usual,” he said. “In the United States there is a shortage of raw materials. Luckily, we were a little prepared and we had stocked up on alcohol and other materials, but we did not expect [the shortage] to be so great.”
Gascó has had to look for new sources of raw materials outside of the United States, in countries such as Panama, Bigman said. Such a change in suppliers “complicates things a little” for the company, he stressed, due to the fact that its products are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration and are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Bigman said the company is working with Ponce-based Serrallés distillery to obtain the alcohol needed for its hand sanitizer product. He said that in the current crisis companies like his have an urgent need for liquidity and not tax credits.
“As part of the Puerto Rico Manufacturing Association board, I am worried that government measures can take too long to implement,” he said about the recently implemented local and federal rescue packages for businesses affected by the pandemic.
Originally an export firm established in the 1980s in a Bayamón carport by Bigman Montalvo’s Spanish-born father and Dominican Republic-born mother, Gascó Industrial normally produces and distributes food service confections, industrial cleaning and disinfectant products, as well as pesticide mostly for use in cafeterias and restaurants. After his father died three years ago and he took over as CEO, Bigman Montalvo aimed to expand company sales by producing non-toxic cleaners and environmentally safe pesticides, relying on the “green chemistry” he learned while earning his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico.
He was featured in Caribbean Business’ 2018 40-Under-40 edition.