TORONTO -- After a dramatic March of stockpiling and panic buying, the grocery shopping habits of Canadians eased somewhat in April, according to new Statistics Canada data.

For the week ending March 21 -- the first full week of self-isolation and physical distancing for many Canadians -- retail grocery sales had surged by 40 per cent compared to the same week in 2019.

Over the next three weeks, the surge was less dramatic. Year-over-year sales rose 19 per cent for the week ending April 11, according to the new figures released Monday, which measured transaction data for grocery products.

“As Canadian consumers adapt to staying at home, new behaviours and shopping habits are evolving to reflect the new reality,” the report reads.

“Purchases at grocery stores spiked during the first three weeks of March, but stabilized by the end of the month as no shortages were anticipated. Seasonal sales of products related to Easter celebrations slowed in 2020 compared with 2019, and sales of certain goods including health and personal care items increased.”

Hand sanitizer is perhaps the most dramatic example of buying trends shifting from March to April. Demand for health and personal care items such as cold remedies and soap spiked dramatically in in March, but none more than hand sanitizer, for which sales rose 792 per cent in the first week of March compared to 2019. By April 11, hand sanitizer sales were still strong but weakened to a 345 per cent increase compared to the same week last year.

Sales of rice and other shelf-stable foods dipped closer to pre-pandemic rates in April after spikes in March. Statistics Canada noted that that item will be one to watch: “Rice sales will continue to be of interest as global suppliers in Thailand, Vietnam and India stockpile and curb exports despite high overall global supply,” the agency wrote in the new report.

Flour sales went from a March surge of 200 per cent year-over-year to an 81 per cent increase in early April. 

Other sales numbers leading up to Easter weekend noted by Statistics Canada included a 47 per cent dip in sales of cut flowers in grocery stores, a 68 per cent increase in coffee filter purchases and a 33 per cent drop in cosmetic product sales.