Cannabis businesses across the country have experienced different economic realities since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Some dispensaries and brands have seen record sales numbers, while customer traffic has significantly decreased for others.
For Apeks Supercritical and Delta Separations, cannabis processing equipment manufacturers that were acquired by Gibraltar Industries in February, business has slowed down. But they’ve expanded their manufacturing beyond extraction and distillation machinery to serve their communities and improve team morale during a difficult time.
“Things have certainly taken a pause in our industry,” says Roger Cockroft, CEO of Delta Separations, with headquarters in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Andy Joseph, founder of Apeks Supercritical, said workloads have also lightened at their facility just outside of Columbus, Ohio.
“We’re experiencing the similar slowdowns as the cannabis industry is affected by COVID-19 but also affected by the inability to have access to capital,” he says. “We [Delta and Apeks] both make fairly expensive capital equipment, and capital is in general difficult to come by.”
The parent company could have furloughed employees, but instead they are busy manufacturing hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer at their facilities weekly, Cockroft says.
"Both Apeks and Delta have been bought by Gibraltar Industries, which has put us into a unique position that we were not financially stressed, and we are able to take a long-term perspective and build up business," he says. "One of the things that came with this was social responsibility, which Apeks and Delta had anyway, but it allowed us a little bit more flexibility to look at how can we help."
Though making sanitizer is relatively simple, acquiring the materials to do so and ensuring the labels, bottles and more are compliant have been the biggest hurdles, Cockroft says.
“The challenge is the supply chain—finding bottles, finding the aloe vera gel – actually it is impossible to find aloe right now,” he says. However, with what they had on hand, Delta was able to produce 210 gallons in one week with enough supplies, at the end of April, to mix 600 more gallons.
“For the guys here, I think they really are pleased to be working on this,” he says. “It really has brought the teams together because they feel like they are doing something to pay back to society.”
Delta has donated bottles to organizations in the area that are still providing essential services but may not be top of mind during the pandemic, such as homeless shelters and medical offices with specialists, like cardiologists and podiatrists.
“It’s not just the ER units that are still seeing their patients … and they need some level of support,” Cockroft says. “It gave us an opportunity to do something, [to] be proactive rather than sit there and observe."
Joseph says Apeks began making hand sanitizer for the community surrounding Johnstown, Ohio, after a Facebook post about making sanitizer for his employees took off.
Kristen Joseph, director of quality assurance at Apeks Supercritical, donates hand sanitizer the company made to the local police department near their headquarters in Johnstown, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Apeks
“We actually didn’t start out with the intention of making this in the mass quantity like this. We just wanted to make some hand sanitizer for the guys in the shop, but it snowballed for us,” he says. “And the next thing you know, the village and several fire and police departments were reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, can we get some of that?’”
Joseph says their supply chain manager serendipitously had some experience with sourcing some of the materials needed to produce the hand sanitizer from previous experience with L Brand’s Bath & Body Works
“The guys were excited to do it. I even had some salary guys volunteer to come in and help [the team who is paid hourly] put this stuff together,” Joseph says. “As Roger mentioned, the camaraderie, the team building and the feeling of having a purpose and being able to give back to the community, because we’re in such a fortunate situation…”
Joseph said he has also sent a letter to the FDA requesting emergency authorization to use CO2 extraction equipment to potentially sterilize PPE, with the capacity to process 10,000 per day. However, the challenge is proving that the sterilization technique actually works. If approved, this could have a potential ripple effect, with processing companies that have this equipment being able to provide this essential service.
“If we can get emergency use authorization for the equipment and the technology, then the opportunity for our customers to potentially pivot and repurpose their equipment in a sterilization environment rather than a extraction environment would be the ultimate goal,” Joseph says.
The Apeks facility has also been used as a food processing center, Joseph says. The Bob Evans corporation asked if they could use the Apeks' space to break down large quantities of food they could not sell quickly enough into smaller portions to be donated to food pantries. Bob Evans was able to donate 40,000 pounds as a result of the partnership, according to the local NBC affiliate.