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Data  

Here’s exactly how COVID-19 fears have impacted sales at local grocery stores and supermarkets nationwide

March 17, 2020

By now, you’ve certainly seen images of empty store shelves — and likely experienced them firsthand — as panic around the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) leads consumers to stock up on food, water, toilet paper, and hygiene products. 

At Womply, we’ve been analyzing revenue data at local businesses in all 50 states and across hundreds of business categories. We’ve certainly seen a spike in sales at grocery stores and supermarkets. Let’s dive into the data.

Chart #1: Last week year-over-year change in grocery store revenues in response to coronavirus preppers

One way to look at the impact of COVID-19 on grocery store sales is to look at the most recent week vs. the same time period in 2019. The graphic below shows this view, updated daily to show the most recent 7-day period.

Note, you can click on a state to view county-level data

As you can see, grocery stores across the country saw big increases in revenue last week (the week of Monday, March 23rd). Most states experienced a 30 to 60% increase in revenue, and only six states saw sales at grocery stores drop below 2019’s numbers.

Five states (Arizona, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Montana, and Maryland) saw revenue during the week of Monday, March 23rd increase by over 100%.

A recap of how this map looked for the week of Monday March 16th:

  • Grocery stores in most states saw huge increases in revenue
  • Only two states (Wisconsin and Hawaii) experienced a decrease in revenue
  • States in the southwest, northeast, and upper midwest experienced the biggest increases, with many states seeing sales up more than 100%

A recap of how this map looked for the week of Monday March 9th:

  • Grocery stores and supermarkets in most states were up 20% to 50%
  • Only five states saw a decrease in year-over-year sales during this period. 
  • Utah shoppers were clearly ahead of the national curve, with a near 200% increase vs. 2019

Chart #2: A daily view of how grocery store sales are trending compared to the same time last year

Another way to look at impact on grocery stores is to analyze every day of the 2020 calendar year against sales on the closest day of the week in 2019. That’s what you’re seeing in the chart below for all 50 states (we’ll look at specific states and cities later on). 

A few observations from this view: 

  • Grocery store sales have been up consistently all year long so far in 2020. 
  • There’s a huge spike where grocery sales nearly double on February 10 and 11. That corresponds to news that the global death toll for coronavirus had topped 1,000, a grim milestone for the soon-to-be global pandemic. 
  • Starting in March, when things got more serious in the U.S., sales were up 20% to ~30% nearly every day, with the mounting gains on the week of March 8, when much of the country started shutting down.
  • Sales then spiked dramatically the weekend of March, 13th after major announcements like the NBA suspending its season and several states started closing schools and businesses.
  • Grocery stores across the country saw a 96% increase in revenue on Monday, March 16th.
  • Sales dropped down to more moderate increases starting the week of Monday, March 23rd.

People in Utah began to pillage grocery stores far sooner than in any other state

Now, let’s drill down and look at a few states and metro areas. First up, Utah — AKA, prepper capital of the U.S.A. — during the coronavirus craze of 2020. 

Take a look:

Observations:

  • Utah consumers have been on a prepping spree all year long, with 3-4x revenue spikes beginning in early January and continuing in February and March.
  • The second big spike in mid-February seems to correspond to reports of the coronavirus spreading rapidly from China to other parts of the world.
  • The entire month of March has been a free-for-all at Utah grocery stores. Sales peaked at a whopping 403% increase on Feb 29th, and continued to stay between 100% and over 300% above 2019’s figures until March 12th. It’s no wonder Utah markets are opening late and closing early in an attempt to restock after daily runs on food and other items. 

New York shoppers are ransacking grocery stores, too

New York was one of the first U.S. states with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, so it would make sense that the urgency around the pandemic would be felt urgently in the Empire State. 

While New Yorkers may not have been as quick to stock up as Utahns, you can clearly see a big shift in consumer behavior as it relates to grocery shopping. 

Observations:

  • In general, grocery store sales have been up by 15% or more so far in 2020.
  • The first big spike came in mid-February around the 1,000 worldwide deaths milestone, and the latest was a 40-50% spike during much of the month of March.
  • Sales spiked again in mid-March, as New York began to take drastic measures (like shutting down schools and restricting public gatherings) in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus

Grocery stores in the New York metro area (Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond counties), saw a similar response as those across the state.

Again, you can see that on March 14th, the day after Governor Cuomo announced closures on everything from school districts to Broadway theatres, New Yorkers flooded nearby grocery stores and supermarkets. 

More of the same for grocery stores in California

In addition to New York, California has had a disproportionately high number of confirmed coronavirus cases as a global travel hub. As with New York, California has been consistently high sales at local grocery stores with spikes corresponding to big COVID-19 news milestones. 

The overall uptick in 2020 is smaller than in New York (or Utah, of course) but here again we see the spike on February 10, with the 1,000-deaths milestone, and surging sales in March as things started to get real stateside. 

Californians really seemed to start panic shopping in droves on Monday, March 16th, which saw the statewide average revenue up by almost 150%.

Here’s a drilldown for grocery stores in Los Angeles county:

You see a huge spike here on Monday, March 16th. Then, as Los Angeles area locals began to prepare for a “shelter in place” ordinance, a massive near 200% increase on Thursday, March 19th.

The view of bay area grocery stores, meanwhile, tells a dramatic story.

As you can see, bay area grocery stores saw sales double starting on February 29th pretty much all the way through March 11th. Then, on March 12th (after the NBA suspended its season, among other major events), sales shot all the way up to 200% higher than in 2019.

On Monday, March 16th, bay area counties announced their “shelter in place” ordinance, set to begin on midnight March 17th. The result of that announcement was a jaw dropping 495% increase in sales at bay area grocery stores as locals cleared the shelves to prepare for three weeks indoors.

Let’s not forget Washington state

Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. And, Washington has seen some of the highest infection and death rates in the country. So, let’s see if Washingtonians are responding by decimating supermarket shelves. 

Surprisingly, Washington state grocery shoppers have shown the most modest response to the coronavirus among the states we’ve highlighted in this analysis. There’s certainly an uptick in revenue activity, punctuated by a huge spike around February 10, but we haven’t seen the wild spikiness that’s present in places like Utah or the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Things get more interesting when we zoom into grocery sales in King County, which includes Seattle and Kirkland. 

As you can see, the spikiness reflects more grocery runs. You can see that there are big swings in revenue, resulting in year-over-year sales dipping well above and below the 2019 benchmark.

The biggest spike, again, is around February 10, with another surge around the start of March, which coincides with news breaking of confirmed coronavirus cases at Life Care Center in Kirkland.

What’s next for U.S. grocery stores?

If COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., we can expect continued runs on American grocery stores. That will result in spiky revenue patterns as consumers decimate store shelves, followed by supermarkets trying to restock. 

In general, this bodes well for grocery store revenue, although their inability to restock could lead to long-term softening in revenue. If the U.S. economy goes into recession as a result of the coronavirus, all local businesses will feel the pain, including grocers whose customers have to cut back. 

We will continue to update this data analysis over time, and we’re continuing to analyze sales patterns at other local business types such as restaurants, bars, retail stores, lodging businesses, and more. Stay tuned. 

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