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Consumers bought £38.7m worth of hand sanitiser in the year to 26 December 2021

Sales of hand sanitiser are up fourfold since the start of the pandemic, despite facing an abrupt decline since 2020.

Consumers bought £38.7m worth of hand sanitiser in the year to 26 December 2021, according to Kantar data, down 61% on the previous year but 406% above 2019.

“As vaccination numbers grew and restrictions relaxed throughout 2021, we saw a shift away from the immediate need for hygiene products that we saw at the height of the pandemic,” said Kantar strategic insights director Matt Maxwell.

“As a result, sales of hand sanitisers dropped by 61%. However, it’s worth noting the category was annualising against record growth in 2020, when sales grew by over 1,000%.”

The 2021 fall in sales coincided with relaxed pandemic restrictions, with health authorities also emphasising that the main risk of transmission was via respiratory particles rather than surface contamination.

The demand created by the pandemic will inevitably weaken as the public becomes “less compliant” with restrictions, said Kate Thompson, founder of Kindr Company, which launched in August 2020 as an alcohol-free sanitiser brand.

However, Maxwell said a quarter of shoppers were still buying the category, equating to 12.9 million consumers, compared with only 9.5% of shoppers in 2019. “Looking at the longer-term picture and compared to pre-pandemic, sales are still up dramatically,” he said.

Brands sought to capitalise on the demand of the early pandemic, with Unilever relaunching its Lifebuoy range and investing £12m in an education campaign around everyday hand hygiene.

Dove has been among those trying to maintain interest in hand sanitiser by combining it with moisturisers, having launched two varieties in January 2021.