Man buying fresh vegetables at farmer's market

As government-mandated lockdowns were introduced in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, consumer spending in grocery stores surged dramatically, outstripping traditional pre-Christmas shopping, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

In an effort to track the initial economic impact of the pandemic, StatsCan published a series of “flash” data releases on Wednesday that provide preliminary insight into the fallout, including a spike in grocery spending.

That data showed that, in the week ended March 14, grocery store sales were up 38% from their 2019 average, and sales were 16% higher than in the week before Christmas, which is typically the busiest shopping week of the year.

Specific items were in short supply as consumers stocked up. In particular, spending on toilet paper was up 241% from its 2019 average that week, StatsCan said.

The national statistical agency also released preliminary data on building permits for March, which showed that the value of permits issued fell 23.2% to $1.4 billion compared with March 2019. Residential permits were down 34.6%.

Provinces that were placed in lockdown in March, including Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, were hardest hit. For instance, the value of building permits issued in Ontario fell by 50.5% compared with the same month last year.

Additionally, StatsCan released “flash” estimates for the Industrial Product Price Index (IPPI) for March, which shows that prices declined by 0.4%, largely due to a 10.7% drop in energy prices.

StatsCan noted that the IPPI data is preliminary and will be revised on April 30.

“These estimates are based on information that is available to date, not the full set of data that will be used to estimate the IPPI being released on April 30, and should be used with caution,” it said.