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Pandemic Pushes Face Masks to Top of the Grocery Charts

Catalina shares top grocery categories six months into pandemic
Pandemic Shopping Categories
Photograph courtesy of Catalina

In another signal of how the pandemic has significantly shifted consumer shopping, the top-selling category in U.S. grocery stores in August was home health testing kits and face coverings, according to an analysis of scan data by Catalina, the shopper intelligence company.

Sales in the home health test category increased by 367%, Catalina said. Face masks make up 80% of sales in the category, demonstrating grocers’ ability to quickly pivot to meet consumers’ needs as more municipalities are requiring use of face masks.

The next five top-growing categories are liquid hand soaps (224%), disinfectant cleaners (212%), bacon–light/turkey/chicken (121%), yeast–dry/refrigerated (103%) and cleaners–produce/wash and rinse (102%). These rankings have held for the last three months after jumping around March through May, Catalina added.

Catalina also found that in August, shoppers were visiting stores considerably less and spending more when they did, as compared to the same period a year ago. Spending per trip increased by 6%, with an overall increase from $310 to $330 per month, while shopping trips declined 11% (6.7 trips down from 7.5). The average basket size in August increased by 19% to $49.29, up from $41.38 last year.

The company analyzes more than 2 billion UPC scans every day to track buying behavior. “These real-time insights have helped our retail and brand customers adjust their marketing, media and activation strategies, while also helping to inform their stocking and supply chain decisions,” said Marta Cyhan, Catalina's chief marketing officer. “Due to the pandemic, many new buyers came into center store categories that were declining in 2019. We are partnering with our clients to convert those buyers from panic buyers to loyal buyers.”

During the six months of the pandemic, the top six categories in the grocery store overall are:

  1. Liquid handsoaps (268%)
  2. Home health testing kits, including face masks (259%)
  3. Disinfectant cleaners (212%)
  4. Frozen meal starters (189%)
  5. Meat substitutes: shelf-stable and refrigerated (126%)
  6. Yeast: dry and refrigerated (117%)


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