Research fellow uses distilling skills to develop sanitiser amid shortage

8 May 2020

Headlands Distilling Company
(L-R) Headlands Distilling Company co-founders Dr Thomas Simnadis, Dean Martelozzo and Jared Smith.

A University of Waikato academic has been using his business and distillery skills amid the current crisis to make lemons out of lemonade – or, in this case, sanitiser out of alcohol.

Dr Thomas Simnadis, a research fellow at the University of Waikato Tauranga campus, and director of Headlands Distilling Company in Australia, has drawn on his alcohol producing skills to meet the hand sanitiser shortage in the market.

A research fellow in strategic management, Dr Simnadis knows a thing or two about pivoting business models in order to adjust to new ways of working.

“In the lead up to the Covid-19 crisis, we were starting to see sales of vodka and gin slow,” says Dr Simnadis.

“However, it was not clear whether these signals were indicative of a broader trend or simply a blip on the radar. We took this observation on board and began reconfiguring our production process.”

Dr Simnadis says the key component of hand sanitiser is ethanol, and producing this very ingredient is one of the core capabilities of his distillery.

“The ability to adapt our process to produce a completely different product enabled us to quickly reorient production away from craft spirits to hand sanitiser. The pivot into hand sanitiser was swift and seamless.”

Dr Thomas Simnadis
Dr Thomas Simnadis is a Research Fellow in Strategic Management at the University of Waikato Tauranga campus.

As an expert in business strategy, Dr Simnadis says one of the best ways for businesses to adapt to crises, like Covid-19, is to be ready for shocks before they destroy business value.

“Once the shock has materialised, adaptation requires an understanding of how customer habits have evolved, and offering products and services that can fulfil customer needs.

“The shock generated by Covid-19 has been far reaching and touched almost every industry. Much like the virus, no one is immune from its effects.”

He says that despite the lack of immunity there are certain activities that, even in the midst of the crisis, can be undertaken to boost the prospects of long-term survival.

“Leaders should look to define their business’s core capability, and think broadly about ways it could be applied to solve problems. Once you’ve identified the core purpose of your business, consider shedding peripheral activities that are not directly contributing to the business’s value proposition.”

He goes on to say that businesses should start conversations with others that may be struggling, and look for ways that unmet customer needs could be solved by forging collaborative relationships.

“You’ve got to prepare for recovery and start envisaging offerings that will appeal to customers in the post-Covid-19 era. Think about which market segments you can appeal to and how to develop compelling value propositions for these customers.

“With the rapid pace of change over the last few weeks, businesses that are proactive and actively monitoring their landscape for opportunities will be better prepared than those waiting for things to go back to normal.”

Dr Simnadis says customer centricity is a crucial skill entrepreneurs will need if they want to navigate this challenging time well.

“Customer needs evolve and entrepreneurs must be proactively scanning the market to ready themselves for shifts in demand, as even subtle changes can wreak havoc with cash flow.

“An entrepreneur that isn’t wed to industry norms or traditional modes of operating is well positioned to see these connections or missed opportunities.”

Latest stories

Related stories

Discover AI and help shape New Zealand's future

Do you ever wonder how Siri or Alexa pull information from the web, turn on…

Tauranga academic joins prestigious taskforce of the American Psychological Association

Associate Professor Taciano Milfont from the School of Psychology - Te Kura Whatu Oho Mauri,…

Info Evening encourages more social work students to become sought-after graduates

With added pressure on social services in the wake of the Covid-19 disruption, the sector…

Kīngitanga Day celebrations go virtual

The University of Waikato commemorated its special relationship with the Kīngitanga in a new way…

Waitaha/Waikato Scholarship sets Shayla up for success

Former Te Puke High School head girl and 2020 Waitaha-A-Hei/University of Waikato Scholarship recipient, Shayla…

“Don’t sit on the sidelines” urges former Mount Maunganui College head girl

Former Mount Maunganui College head girl, Ella Carlsen, received a University of Waikato Pacific Excellence…

Theresa Gattung

Catching up with: Theresa Gattung, CNZM

In 2007, BMS alumna Theresa Gattung received one of the first Distinguished Alumni Awards. We…

It’s Armageddon for University Esports

This weekend (25 & 26 July), the University of Waikato is keen to show esports…

Rare giant squid caught in the Bay of Plenty will assist MPI research

A giant squid caught off Whakaari/White Island, will be used by University of Waikato marine…


University of Waikato Tauranga Campus wins top Australasian award

The University of Waikato Tauranga Campus scooped a top award for its innovative learning environment…


University of Waikato offers fast-track to engineering

Engineering hopefuls, and those looking for a career change, may get an early foot in…


New era for Waikato Management School with appointment of Matt Bolger

The University of Waikato Management School is heading into a new era with the appointment…