RONAN — In an effort to “flatten the curve,” Ronan CBD manufacturing company Green Ridge Biosolutions is working to produce thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer for the local community and beyond. Using products they already have on hand, the company is selling the in-demand hand cleaner at an affordable price and has also provided bottles for free to local stores and agencies in need.
“As a country, we need to help flatten this curve,” said the company’s COO Sam Belanger. A University of Montana alumnus, Belanger opened Green Ridge Biosolutions in April 2019. The company produces muscle rubs, hemp extract oils and bath products that contain CBD, or Cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The idea for the sanitizer came about last weekend when he realized he couldn’t buy any hand sanitizer on his bi-weekly trip to Costco in Kalispell.
“We wash our hands a ton, it’s just part of our process. There are some areas where there’s not a sink (like the front desk), so we use hand sanitizer,” he said. “I realized Friday night (March 13) when I went to Costco in Kalispell, they had no hand sanitizer, Walmart had no hand sanitizer, we stopped at three stores on the way back — no hand sanitizer”
He called his formulation chemist, who normally works on their CBD products, and asked if there was anything he could do.
“He’s like, ‘We’ll just make some,’” Belanger said.
His formulation contained aloe vera gel, a common gel type. When Belanger had no luck trying to source aloe vera gel through his suppliers, he turned to the World Health Organization’s formula and realized they didn’t need the aloe vera, which is mostly a thickening agent.
“It’s 99.9% alcohol that we use in it, and that consists of 83% of the formula. Then there’s hydrogen peroxide, glycerol and then distilled water,” he said, adding the end product is much thinner than the typical hand sanitizer most people are used to, but works just as well.
“I called our staff and asked if they'd be willing to work overtime to help make some,” he said, adding they all came in the following Sunday to crank out a few hundred bottles.
While they did add the product to their online portfolio, initially the plan was just to sell it locally as well as give some away.
“As soon as we had a label, we went around the community and gave them to the local police department, we went to some of the open stores and gave individual units to cashiers working,” Belanger said, adding they’ve also provided bottles to local nursing homes, a hospital and waitresses at open restaurants.
“They’re the ones at risk as far as contracting (COVID-19) because everyone is touching their environment. We need those people to stay open.”
Kim Aipperspach, who owns the Conoco gas station a couple blocks down and across the street from Green Ridge Biosolutions, said he went and bought some of Belanger’s hand sanitizer as soon as he heard it was available.
“We’ve been using it for employees, and I’m getting ready to make a display,” Aipperspach said. “Even before this hit, money is one of the dirtiest things you handle, so that’s why you always have that kind of stuff around.”
Aipperspach also said he thinks Belanger’s formula is less abrasive than what you find in stores.
“It seems like a friendlier product, and it’s stronger than what they sell in other places.”
By last Monday, all but 12 bottles were gone, so they made another batch. By Friday, they had produced approximately 2,100 bottles, half of which Belanger said they’ve given away and half of which they’ve sold.
The first batches were priced at $5 per 2 oz. bottle plus shipping, with the biggest cost being the bottle itself. The type they had on hand are fairly expensive pump bottles used for thicker products like lotions and shampoos. And because the hand sanitizer they came up with is liquid rather than gel, they have to fill the bottles individually by hand.
This past week, Belanger rush-ordered new 2, 4 and 8 oz. bottles that are cheaper than the pump bottles and also purchased a machine that will make filling the bottles more efficient.
“As soon as we get the bottles in, we think we have a different way to fill them that’s semi-automated, and it will be faster, so we can produce more.”
Over the last week they received interest from as far away as Arizona, Texas and California, from stores asking to purchase cases rather than individual bottles.
“The new bottles, we’ll probably be able to do cases better, but try to get them to retailers as cheap as possible so they can hopefully sell them at a reasonable price to their customers and not mark them up,” he said, adding he expects the bottles to arrive by Tuesday or Wednesday.
They’re hoping to eventually be able to produce a few hundred thousand of the bottles.
He’s not sure yet what the prices might be for the new bottle sizes they’ll be offering, but it’s important to Belanger and his company that the product they’re making is affordable.
“We’re putting them out pretty close to 'at cost.' We’re not making a profit,” he said. “For now, it’s like, let’s get something out there that’s going to help flatten this curve out.”
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