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Major Spirits Producers Scramble To Adapt As Crisis Takes Hold

March 18, 2020

As the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic ramps up across the globe, spirits makers are entering uncharted territory as they aim to balance health and safety concerns with production needs. Though companies and brands across the world—including Jameson, Heaven Hill, and Jim Beam—have temporarily closed down tourism facilities, production efforts continue as global marketers adjust to new cleaning routines, social distancing rules, and an increase in the number of employees working remotely.

“We’re going through unprecedented times as coronavirus spreads globally,” Jonathan Yusen, president and managing director, North America at William Grant & Sons, told SND. “We have a dedicated Global Coronavirus Task Force working on this to coordinate our response across the business, but the well-being of our employees, our business partners, our customers, and our consumers is our top priority.” At William Grant & Sons’ Scotch distilleries, production will continue, but the facilities will be closed to the general public for the foreseeable future.

In a recent call with investors, Pernod Ricard North America CEO Ann Mukherjee said the full impact of the virus on business is unknown at this time, that it’s simply too early to paint an accurate picture. She added that Pernod would devote its resources to remaining flexible and ready to respond to the ever-changing situation.

To that end, Pernod has closed its offices across North America, with non-production employees working from home at least through April 3. The company, through Jameson, has also donated $500,000 to the U.S. Bartenders Guild Charity fund and will also match outside donations, up to $100,000, through March 30. Additionally, Pernod is devoting distilling capacity at its Fort Smith, Arkansas manufacturing facility, Rabbit Hole Distillery (Louisville, Kentucky), Smooth Ambler Spirits (Lewisburg, West Virginia), and TX Whiskey Distillery (Fort Worth, Texas) to producing hand sanitizer.

Pernod is also donating is 70,000 liters of pure alcohol to France’s Laboratoire Cooper, a leading supplier of hydroalcoholic gels to pharmacies. “Companies must mobilize, not only to ensure the safety of their employees, but also to contribute to collective efforts in accordance with their capabilities,” said company chairman and CEO Alex Ricard.

Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Brands will also maintain distillery operations while following the CDC’s and other government agencies recommendations to limit the spread of the virus. “There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus at any Heaven Hill facility. Coronavirus has not impacted production. Additionally, all production facilities are operating as usual with added health and safety protocols,” says Josh Hafer, senior manager, community relations and corporate affairs at Heaven Hill. “Over the past week our operations teams have begun enhanced cleaning at all Heaven Hill facilities, closed our Visitors Centers for a minimum of two weeks, eliminated all business travel, and enacted social distancing protocols.”—Shane English

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