'Very little support': Yukoner's hand sanitizer business flops despite pandemic

After spending more than $100,000 to produce hand sanitizer during the pandemic, the owner of a Yukon tourism business says he's left with a lot of unsold bottles and little support from local buyers.

Tourism business owner spent $100,000 to fill what he thought was high demand

Thomas de Jager, a tourist outfitter in Whitehorse, bought a still to make hand sanitizer after the COVID-19 pandemic hit but says there's been very little support for his product in the community. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

After spending more than $100,000 to produce hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic, the owner of a Yukon tourism business says he's left with a lot of unsold bottles and little support from potential local buyers.

"The big production we were set up for was not needed at all," said Thomas de Jager, a Whitehorse-based outfitter who got into the hand-sanitizer business this spring.

He says Yukon businesses and government officials said then that were was a huge demand for sanitizer.

Knowing his tourism business was facing a bleak summer because of the pandemic, de Jager used his background in chemistry and bought machinery for "high production."

But months later, he says demand has disappeared, as buyers are getting sanitizer from the South.

Thomas de Jager used his background in chemistry to start producing hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic, thinking there would be a huge demand. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"Now all the grocery stores and the big stores stepped back and they're not interested in our product at all," said de Jager, who says it is too expensive to ship his product to other regions.

"It's a little bit frustrating," he said. "The big slogans out there, support local businesses.... It seems to be just words and there's no actions. Even the government ... they buy their stuff down south because that's what they have done for years."

De Jager says his company still has a lot of production materials left over. He has donated some sanitizer to schools and plans on selling the bottles he has left, and deciding if he should "cut [his] losses" and sell the machinery.

"It makes no sense spending time in a dead project where unfortunately there's only very little support by the community," he said.

As for his tourism business, Yukon Wide Adventures, he's worried about what lies ahead if 2021 is another rough season.

"I don't know if we will survive. I have no clue."

With files from Dave White.


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