A FAMILY-RUN gin distillery on the Isle of Mull has almost tripled online sales during the Covid-19 lockdown and is adding hand sanitiser to its product range on a permanent basis.

Whitetail Spirits, which was Mull’s first distillery in more than 220 years when it launched last July, says loyal customers and online marketing have helped fuel a 276 per cent rise in e-commerce sales for the year to date.

The business, which sells to customers including Selfridges and British chef Marco Pierre White, also plans to continue producing antibacterial hand sanitiser after switching production in March to help vulnerable people locally.

“A lot of people donated bottles and other components to allow us to produce around 2,000 bottles initially in different sizes and we wanted to continue to do that as long as we could,” said Whitetail sales and marketing director Jamie Munro. “I think people are certainly going to be more conscious and are going to want to make sure they’re carrying things like that around with them.”

The distiller has teamed up with Tobermory-based building services firm Highland Services, which has started selling foot pump hand sanitisers to local businesses.

“We’re working with them to supply our product to everyone to use with this pump,” said Mr Munro, who runs the distillery with his father Laurence, a former deep sea diver, and his mother Katie, an interior designer and cordon bleu chef by background.

“The timing of lockdown could not really have come at a worse time for us as the holiday season on Mull usually begins at the end of March or beginning of April. We’ve definitely been affected by not being able to open our doors to the shop but we have been buoyed by the loyalty of our customer base along with the many new customers we’ve received through our e-commerce sales.”

Whitetail, which is named after the island’s white-tailed sea eagle and made with local botanicals including heather, pine needles and sea kelp, waived all postage costs on online sales and included a free hand sanitiser with every order.

“On-trade sales have been severely affected with the closure of bars and restaurants, but off-sales continue to tick along, albeit at a lower volume,” Mr Munro said. “We are very fortunate to have some loyal stockists who have remained open, such as the Co-op stores.”

The business has around 300 stockists across the UK, including around 30 Co-operative stores in tourist areas, country clothing specialists The House of Bruar and the four Selfridges stores in London, Manchester and Birmingham. Its distributor for the off-trade is Elgin-based malt whisky distiller Gordon & MacPhail and for the on-trade, the Glasgow-based wine and spirit merchant Inverarity Morton.

Whitetail typically sells around 8,000 bottles of gin a year and is about to launch a new range of gin liqueurs using seasonal fruits and botanicals hand-foraged from the family’s 56-acre Tiroran estate and from around the island. The flavours include rhubarb, late summer berry and aqua mint and lime.

Mr Munro said local people and businesses on Mull had all been working together to help each other out during lockdown. For example, a local building firm, Mull Building Services, had collected 1,000 packaging boxes for Whitetail from Macfarlane Packaging in Glasgow. Wider initiatives across the island have included a crowdfunding campaign to raise a Covid-19 ‘war chest’ and the mobilisation of an island-wide army of volunteers to keep the island fed, watered and looked after.