Sanity and Sanitizer: The Story of Purell

The coronavirus may be the best thing that has ever happened to the hand sanitizer business. When life returns to somewhat-normal, will brands like Purell discover that this moment has birthed a whole raft of new competition?

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Episode Notes

Before this pandemic, the story of Purell was mostly about innovation—inventing something people needed before they realized they needed it. Now, it’s a story about something every business executive dreams of—a sudden influx of customers desperate to get their hands on your product.

But when demand surges so fast that the leading brand can’t produce enough of it, it results in scarcity and price gouging … and other companies jump in to fill the gap. When life returns to some level of normalcy, will the makers of Purell discover that this moment has birthed a whole raft of new competitors? And will there still be enough unclean hands to go around?

David Owen is a staff writer at the New Yorker. Matt Cunningham is co-founder of Old Glory Distilling Co. in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Podcast production by Jess Miller.

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Navigating the marketplace is the original choose-your-own adventure. Thrilling Tales of Modern Capitalism takes a company in the news, and looks at its history to figure out why it finds itself in its present circumstances. Host Seth Stevenson brings you stories you may not have heard about the brands that shape how you live and work. And whether they’ve succeeded or failed, these companies have been on more of an adventure than you may have imagined. All episodes

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