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Coronavirus Pandemic Panic Buying

More than half of Canadians unable to buy essential items due to COVID-19.

With the arrival of COVID-19, Canadians are living in a strange new reality where they are unable to purchase household essentials they very recently took for granted. But how bad has it been in Canada? To investigate, Finder surveyed 1,201 Canadian adults from March 16-21.

Finder research found more than half (54%) of those surveyed say they were unable to buy basic necessities in the last month. That’s an estimated 16.3 million Canadians who struggled to purchase groceries, medicine, hand sanitizer and, of course the most sought after (and sometimes fought over) item, toilet paper.

Those unable to buy essential items in the last month% of Canadians
Able to buy54%
Unable to buy46%

Toilet paper and hand sanitizer in short supply

Toilet paper is the hardest item to find with nearly one-third of Canadians (30%) admitting they were unable to purchase it. In a close second came hand sanitizer and soap (29%). And while dry food (15%), medicine (10%) and other toiletries (11%) were more readily available, they were still being hoarded by many Canadians.

While it makes sense that easy-to-stockpile items lead to supply shortages, even more concerning is that 18% of Canadians have had trouble buying fresh food. If you have found it difficult lately to purchase your fresh groceries in-store, check out our list of places to buy groceries online. Double bonus, with online shopping or delivery, Canadians are better able to fulfill their obligation to social distancing.

What have you been unable to buy in the last month?% of Canadians
Fresh food18%
Toilet paper or tissue30%
Hand sanitizer or soap29%
Other toiletries11%
Dry food15%

Panic buying affects both men and women

Gender didn’t seem to be much of a factor in dealing with the frustration of panic buying, with only slightly more women (58%) facing product shortages as compared to men (54%).

Toilet paper was the top item both genders struggled to buy, with 32% of women and 29% of men saying they were unable to purchase it in the last month.

Middle-aged Canadians most likely to struggle to buy basic necessities

While everyone is dealing with the unpleasant side effects of panic buying, Canadians aged 45-54 are struggling the most, with 63% unable to purchase basic necessities for their families. In a close second are those aged 35-44 with 58% of them struggling to buy. And just over half of young Canadians aged 18-24 (54%) and 25-34 (53%) had issues purchasing essentials.

The elderly are most at risk of experiencing serious complications of COVID-19, so it is sad to see more than half of Canadians (52%) aged 65 and over unable to purchase the essentials, like hand sanitizer and soap, they need to stay home and stay healthy.

Toilet paper or tissues26%29%34%31%31%32%
Hand sanitizer or soap22%27%31%36%29%29%
Dry food14%14%21%17%20%12%
Toiletries aside from toilet paper/soap9%11%13%15%15%11%
Fresh food20%18%17%21%21%15%
None of the above46%47%42%37%48%48%

Panic buying escalates from east to west

The further west in Canada you go, the worse the panic buying and hoarding behaviour get. The data suggest Atlantic Canadians are least likely to panic buy, with only 44% of residents unable to buy essentials. In Quebec, 47% of people have struggled to purchase necessities and 55% in both Ontario and the Prairie Provinces.

It appears panic buying is the most prevalent on Canada’s West Coast, with 60% of British Columbians saying they have struggled to buy basic necessities in the last month.

AtlanticBritish ColumbiaOntarioPrairiesQuebec
Toilet paper or tissue22%37%30%34%19%
Hand sanitizer or soap29%34$31%29%16%
Dry food13%17%14%15%15%
Other toiletries13%14%9%14%8%
Fresh food17%19%16%20%17%
None of the above56%40%45%45%53%

How Canada compares to other countries for hoarding

Finder ran the same survey in six countries: the United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The Philippines recorded the highest number of people unable to buy essential goods (58%), followed closely by the United States and South Africa (56% each). Of the six countries, those living in Hong Kong are least likely to report being unable to buy what they need (43%).

Country% Unable to Buy Essential Goods
United States56%
South Africa56%
Hong Kong43%

North Americans struggling to buy toilet paper

Nearly one in three North Americans have been unable to buy toilet paper, suggesting it’s a popular item to panic buy in the region – or perhaps demand has simply outstripped supply for other reasons. 32% of Americans and 30% of Canadians have been unable to buy toilet paper compared to 16% of people in the Philippines, 17% of people in Hong Kong and 18% of people in Ireland.

Country% Unable to Buy Toilet Paper
United States32%
South Africa21%
Hong Kong17%

South Africans unable to buy hand sanitizer

Over a third of South Africans say they’ve been unable to buy hand sanitizer in the last month (37%), the most of any country in the study. Nearly a third of Americans reported the same (32%), followed by Canadians and Irish (29% each).

Country% Unable to Buy Hand Sanitizer
South Africa37%
United States32%
Hong Kong20%

South Africans and Filipinos struggle to buy dry food

18% of South Africans reported they were unable to buy dry food like rice. Filipinos were the next most likely to report the same (17%), followed by Americans and Canadians (15% each).

Country% Unable to Buy Dry Food
South Africa18%
United States15%
Hong Kong12%

Fresh food hardest to buy in the Philippines

Those living in the Philippines had the most difficulty buying fresh food, with 27% reporting they’ve been unable to make a fresh food purchase in the last month. South Africans were the next most likely to report being unable to buy fresh food (21%), followed by North Americans (18% for Canadians and 17% for Americans).

Country% Unable to Buy Fresh Food
South Africa21%
United States17%
Hong Kong13%

South Africans struggling the most to buy toiletries

South Africans are the most likely to say they’ve been unable to buy toiletries (excluding toilet paper), at 18%. Those from the United States and the Philippines are the next most likely to say they’ve been unable to buy toiletries (14% each).

Country% Unable to Buy Toiletries
South Africa18%
United States14%
Hong Kong12%


One in five Filipinos (22%) have been unable to buy medicine in the last month, the most of any country included in the survey. A large proportion of South Africans (19%) said the same. A similar number of Hong Kong residents, Americans, Canadians and Irish reported being unable to buy medicine – roughly 1 in 10.

Country% Unable to Buy Medicine
South Africa19%
Hong Kong11%
United States11%


Image: Getty Images

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