Sales of toilet paper rose 288 per cent in the second week of March compared to the same period last year, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.
The report tracks the grocery buying habits of Canadians from January through the first two weeks of April 2020. The trendline shows a massive spike in sales starting in the first week of March, peaking on March 13, the day the federal government advised against non-essential travel, while taking other measures to deal with the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, sales dropped quickly as Easter approached.
“Whether Canadians were simply restocking depleted pantries, preparing to shop less frequently and reduce their exposure to COVID-19, or truly panic buying, grocery store sales surged in March 2020,” the report reads.
By way of context, toilet paper sales rose 10 per cent in the final week of February, as concerns about COVID-19 increased. Sales then rose 102 per cent during the first week in March 2020, before rising 288 per cent relative to the same period last year. During this second week, sales of facial tissues rose 257 per cent, household cleaners 180 per cent and paper towels 227 per cent.
The higher toilet paper sales relative to March 2019 then ‘dropped’ to 97 per cent in the third week of March, before falling to 49 per cent in the fourth week of March. During the first two weeks of April, the increases were 51 per cent and 84 per cent respectively. Sales of facial tissues, household cleaners and paper towels followed a comparable pattern.
Sales of other notable items also surged during March into April because of COVID-19.
“In provinces where beer and wine are available from grocery stores, Canadians purchased alcohol for home consumption at levels notably higher than in 2019,” the report notes.
Sales of flour meanwhile rose more than 200 per cent year-over-year in March, reaching 81 per cent in the week ending April 11, compared to the same period a year ago. “Increased year-over-year sales in other baking supplies such as butter and margarine (up 18 per cent), eggs (up 44 per cent) and milk (up 21 per cent) help round out the picture of the Canadian home baker’s supply list,” it reads.
Sales of hair-colouring (up 75 per cent in the week ending April 11) rose, in contrast to declining sales for other personal hygiene products. “Year-over-year, purchases of cosmetics dropped 44 [per cent] and hair styling and cutting supplies fell 34 [per cent] in the week ending March 28,” it reads. Sales have since recovered but remain well below historical levels. Or to be cynical about it, Canadians have been letting themselves go during this pandemic.
Finally, sales of family planning products rose throughout the first few weeks of March as Canadians rushed to buy these items, peaking in the third week of March at 41 per cent. Sales have since sagged down to historic levels.
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