#1: Ontario-based businesses and the innovation born as a result of COVID-19
That’s something Omid McDonald, CEO and founder of Dairy Distillery in Almonte, Ont., discovered last spring when he and his team decided to pivot. Established three years ago in a 19th century mill town in the east end of the province, Dairy Distillery opened with the plan to make vodka from unused dairy by-product — an undoubtedly uncommon practice. “We worked with the University of Ottawa to develop the technology to convert lactose into delicious alcohol. In 2018, we built our distillery and launched our first product, Vodkow, an unbelievably smooth vodka, now available at LCBO stores across the province,” McDonald says proudly.
At the beginning of 2020, the distillery was bustling — McDonald and his employees were making thousands of bottles of Vodkow, until they received a vital request. “I got a call from The Ottawa Hospital looking for hand sanitizer. When a hospital calls for sanitizer, there is only one answer: ‘How much do you need?’” McDonald says. “We fortunately had 10,000 bottles worth of Vodkow waiting to be packaged, so we redistilled it to make sanitizer. The transition was difficult at first — for example, it was difficult to get the ingredients and bottles for hand sanitizer — but we quickly got into a new rhythm.” McDonald says something he’s learned from pivoting is just how fragile the world’s supply chain is. “I figured large producers would be able to supply a simple commodity like sanitizer, but even large organizations couldn’t get it. That was an eye-opener.”
Since bringing hand sanitizer into their offerings, McDonald says the team has been kept busy every day — demand for sanitizer continues to be high. “We added six new team members to keep up with the demand. Our core vodka business continues to grow, despite the challenges of COVID-19,” he says. “We hope to add sanitizer as a new business line going forward.”