indicatorThe Owl

Canadians stocked up on flour, hand sanitizer and alcohol

It will surprise no one that sales of hand sanitizer jumped by 792 per cent during the first week of March

By ATB Economics 12 May 2020 2 min read

A new study from Statistics Canada that analyzes trends in consumer demand and sales up to the week ending April 11, 2020 shows grocery store sales in Canada peaked during the second week of March at 46 per cent above where they were a year earlier.

As the study points out, it was during this week on March 13 that the Government of Canada advised Canadians to avoid non-essential travel abroad, the House of Commons decided to shut down for five weeks, and a coordinated federal economic response package was announced.

Sales the next week—when provincial states of emergency were being announced—spiked by 40 per cent compared to the same week in 2019. Sales came down from the peak, but were still 19 per cent higher during the second week of April than they were last year.

When it comes to some of the specific items Canadians were buying as the pandemic geared up, it will surprise no one that sales of hand sanitizer jumped by 792 per cent during the first week of March. Sales have remained high, but a lack of product on store shelves has reduced the amount consumers can purchase.

Other items that spiked include toilet paper and cleaning products, which were up by 288 per cent and 180 per cent, respectively, during the second week of March. 

Between the home baking fad and the idea of flour as an essential food product, sales of the powder were up by over 200 per cent in mid-March.

In part because they can’t, as Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, get their “coffee on the outside,” sales of coffee filters were up by 68 per cent during the second week of April. (It’s not clear why coffee itself was not tracked.)  

In “provinces where beer and wine are available from grocery stores, Canadians purchased alcohol for home consumption at levels notably higher than in 2019.” Part of this can be explained by reduced drinking at restaurants and bars, but increased stress brought on by the pandemic may also be a factor.

Some of the products that have seen their sales at grocery stores spike will likely return to pre-pandemic levels relatively soon after the crisis is over (surely people will stop panic buying toilet paper?). But it remains to be seen if things like hand sanitizer (because of new habits and concerns), alcohol and coffee (because eating out remains muted) and hair dye (if social distancing keeps people away from salons) continue to fly off grocery store shelves faster than they did before COVID-19.

Canadians purchased alcohol for home consumption at levels notably higher than in 2019

Canadians purchased alcohol for home consumption at levels notably higher than in 2019.


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