Empty shelves are pictured at a grocery store in North Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 16, 2020. Statistics Canada says grocery store sales continued to be high in the week ending April 11, up 19 per cent year-over-year, but they were below the spike seen in mid-March when initial COVID-19 emergency measures were announced. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Post-COVID grocery store sales high but below the mid-March peak, StatCan says

The March surge came as Canadians re-stocked depleted pantries

Consumers continued to buy more hand sanitizer, toilet paper, canned goods and baking supplies in April than before the COVID-19 pandemic even as the mid-March shopping frenzy started to die down, according to Statistic Canada’s latest data.

Retail grocery store sales jumped 40 per cent for the week ending March 21 compared to the same week last year, the agency said in a special report on how shopping patterns have changed since Canada stepped up its COVID-19 public health campaigns.

The week prior, sales soared 46 per cent. That week included Easter, as well as the introduction of a government advisory against non-essential travel.

The StatCan report, the second since the onset of the pandemic, covers a period from the week ending March 21 to the week ending April 11.

The March surge came as Canadians re-stocked depleted pantries and prepared to shop less frequently, among other reasons.

The sales increase slowed the last week of March and first week of April, with 12 per cent jumps compared to the same weeks in 2019, while the week ending April 11 saw a 19 per cent rise.

READ MORE: Toilet paper demand in Canada has skyrocketed 241%

Sales of health and personal care items slowed after the March surge, said Statistics Canada.

In the first week of March, for example, hand sanitizer sales increased by 792 per cent compared to the same week of 2019. By the week of April 11, hand sanitizer sales were up 345 per cent.

Soap, and mask and glove sales remained high in the week ending April 11 with 68 per cent and 114 per cent jumps respectively.

Bathroom tissue sales moderated, but were still 81 per cent higher that week.

Purchases of shelf-stable products moved closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to the agency.

For the week ending April 11, rice sales rose 12 per cent while canned goods rose 47 per cent and pasta jumped 49 per cent. In contrast, infant formula sales fell 15 per cent.

People continued to buy baking supplies amid ongoing efforts to remain at home.

In the second and third week of March, flour sales increased 208 and 207 per cent respectively.

READ MORE: Why did you buy that? Unearthing the roots of consumer choices in the pandemic

By the week ended April 11, that had slowed to an 81-per-cent increase. Butter and margarine sales rose 18 per cent, milk was up 21 per cent and eggs jumped 44 per cent.

Sales for Easter-related products remained similar to trends seen in 2019, with the exception of flowers.

At grocery stores, flower sales fell 47 per cent in the week leading up to Easter compared with the same week the previous year.

With the closure of many bars and restaurants, as well as authorities encouraging people to stay home as much as possible, Statistics Canada noted alcohol and coffee sales for at-home consumption increased.

In the week ending April 11, alcohol sales were up 46 per cent, while coffee filters saw a 68 per cent rise.

Hair dye sales jumped 75 per cent that week, but cosmetic products fell 33 per cent.

The Canadian Press


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