Flu and fears create one feverish market

Duo’s all-natural product the latest big splash among hand sanitizers

StaSAFE contains aloe vera. (Argenius Worldwide) StaSAFE contains aloe vera.
By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / November 13, 2009

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If you’re looking to launch a business, here are two words any budding entrepreneur should know: hand sanitizer.

In the age of swine flu, the market for this germ-killing goo is white hot. Sales skyrocketed more than 70 percent in the six months ending Oct. 3, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the Nielsen Co.

Dewey Parsons and Mark Montopoli have experienced the demand first hand. The cofounders of Argenius Worldwide LLC in Newton launched their staSAFE hand sanitizer last week at all the Market Basket stores in New England and said they have sold 40,000 of the 2-ounce bottles.

“Those numbers kind of blew us away,’’ Parsons said.

The staSAFE hand sanitizer, which retails for $3.99 and is manufactured in Salem, is billed as all natural. It contains aloe vera, vegetable glycerin, cellulose, and oils, and the active ingredient is a silver-zinc complex developed by two Rhode Island scientists who stumbled on it while trying to purify water with silver. The sanitizer, which takes longer to rub in than alcohol-based sanitizers and isn’t as drying, can protect hands from germs for hours, Parsons said.

“You could drink it,’’ Parsons said. “Except aloe vera tastes horrible.’’

This isn’t the first business Parsons and Montopoli have run: Parsons was one of the partners behind the short-lived Three Stooges Beer; Montopoli used to own a seafood wholesale business in Bristol, R.I.

A week after the staSAFE launch, the business partners are already thinking of expanding their company. They want to make more products with the silver-zinc complex, including air fresheners and room foggers for hotel rooms. But the hand sanitizer market is definitely where it’s at.

“I hate saying swine flu helps business,’’ Parsons said, “but it does make people conscious that they need to sanitize.’’

Mike Tesler of Retail Concepts, a consultancy in Norwell, agrees. “It’s a very opportune time to be in that business,’’ he said.

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase


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