Grocery stockpiling is most severe near coronavirus clusters — then there's Colorado

Key Points
  • As more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in the United States, Americans are buying up canned goods and hand sanitizer.
  • Consumers in Washington state, Colorado and California are stockpiling the most, compared with other states, according to data from marketing firm Catalina.
  • Powdered milk sales in Washington have nearly quadrupled, and chlorine bleach sales have more than doubled.
A man looks for products at a supermarket after panic buying due to the Coronavirus.
Chris Putnam | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

Colorado has yet to report any cases of the new coronavirus in the state, yet consumers there are already stockpiling more powdered milk and cans of soup than in Washington state, where at least nine people have died due to the virus.

But Coloradans aren't the only ones stocking up on canned goods and cleaning supplies.

Hand sanitizer sales skyrocketed 619% nationwide in the week ended March 1, according to data from marketing firm Catalina, which compared the sales of 33 products to the same period a year ago. Disinfecting cleaners and wipes have seen their sales more than double. Grocery store and retailers are trying to prevent shortages from "panic buying" as more cases of the virus are confirmed in the United States.

Across all 50 states, Washington, as the only state with reported deaths from the COVID-19 virus so far, is seeing the biggest sales spikes in shelf-stable food products and cleaning and medical supplies, Catalina data found. Hand sanitizer sales have surged 836%. Powdered milk sales have nearly quadrupled, and chlorine bleach sales have more than doubled. Sales of dried beans and grains, as well as rice, have climbed 84%.

California, as the state with the most overall cases, has experienced similar trends. John Bagan, chief merchandising officer of Gelson's, an upscale Southern California grocery chain, said that sales for shelf-stable products and health and first-aid supplies began picking up last week.

Consumers are buying up items like disinfecting wipes, beans, pasta, tuna and toilet paper. The only item out of stock on Gelson's shelves as of Tuesday afternoon was hand sanitizer.

"We're starting to look at limits on certain products like hand sanitizer if we have to," Bagan said.  

Colorado, which is seeing about as much stockpiling as California, borders Nebraska and Utah, both of which are treating coronavirus patients but have not diagnosed any cases that originated in the respective state.

Texas is seeing the fourth-highest sales increases across the 33 products analyzed by Catalina. The state is home to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, where Americans who may have been exposed to the virus overseas have been in quarantine. 

South Dakotans are largely unfazed by the outbreak. While sales of hand sanitizer, powdered milk and cleaning products have spiked, sales of canned foods like chili, vegetables and soup have declined. The Midwestern state is sparsely populated with less than 1 million people as residents.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends frequent hand-washing with soap and water, liquid hand soaps have not experienced the same spike as hand sanitizer. Washington and California are the only states that have seen their sales more than double in the week ended March 1. Nationwide, liquid hand sales are up 58%.

How coronavirus could impact wholesale retailers, grocery store stocks
How coronavirus could impact wholesale retailers, grocery store stocks