A Look at the Impact of COVID19 on Grocery Shopping in Canada
Statistics Canada released an interesting report today on recent grocery store sales in Canada. I thought I would provide a perspective on what I thought were a couple of highlights in the report.
Sales are Up
It is hardly a surprise that sales in grocery are up in April. We saw a significant bump in sales just as home isolation began. That included some panic buying/hoarding behaviour as people wondered about the supply of food, particularly given some shortages that led to empty shelves. The most recent two weeks (reported) were closer to the levels that I would have expected. Given we spend about a third of our food dollar on food prepared outside the home, an increase of 15-20% in grocery sales are in the range that should be expected. Dollars spent on food service include more than just food so we wouldn't expect it to remain at a third.
We're Holding Inventories of Shelf Stable Products
If we look at Chart 4 from the report (below) we see more evidence of the huge increases in purchases of shelf stable products immediately after the lockdown. It is worth noting that despite the building of inventories, purchases of some of the products remains high. This suggests (will be interesting to see moving forward) that people are maintaining some inventories and buying product as they use it. Infant formula has gone down to pre-lockdown levels, and actually slightly below. We would not expect overall sales of formula to be higher because parents weren't buying formula from restaurants. For the other products like rice and pasta, demand still remains above historical levels but below the significant peaks. This suggests that people continue to hold inventories of these products and buy to their use. Consumers may have lingering concerns about future availability of food and, as such, are not depleting their stocks as they use them.
We Really Are Baking More
We've all heard about the increase in demand for flour and the shortages of flour in many stores. This graph (below) highlights that. Flour demand was up over 200% at its peak and remained up 75% even several weeks later. This increase may actually underestimate demand as many people were disappointed at the store when they couldn't find any flour. This sustained increase in demand suggests not just a transfer from food service but a real change in behaviour. People are baking more, and would like to bake even more than that. Milk and eggs are also components of baking but are up a smaller percentage because they start from a bigger base. We would also have expected milk and egg demand to be higher given we are spending more time at home. We drink more milk at home than we do in restaurants so overall fluid milk consumption is likely higher.
We Miss the Pub and the Coffee Shop
Two products that have not seen as much of a decrease are alcohol and coffee filters. This suggests that there was less hoarding/panic buying behaviour with these products. It is apparent that people have not curtailed their consumption of "double doubles" while locked up at home. It might also be an indication that even those coffee shops that are still open for take out, have seen a significant reduction in volume. As for alcohol, pubs and restaurants are closed and people are clearly still enjoying the odd pint or cocktail in the privacy of their own homes or in video chats with friends.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, Michael. "A Look at the Impact of COVID19 on Grocery Shopping in Canada". Food Focus Guelph (86), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, Mat 11, 2020.