Expect a rush on outdoor heaters, skis and food staples as 'long winter under COVID' approaches

Fire pits are expected to be among this fall's hot sellers. (Pexels)

Kitchen staples, winter sports gear, and outdoor heaters are expected to be among the hot-ticket consumer items as fall arrives in Canada.

Retail insiders are expecting Canadians to stock their pantries, equip their home gyms and offices, stretch the outdoor living season, and nest with home improvement projects as the pandemic enters its third season.

And memories of empty shelves, no matter how briefly they lasted in the early days of COVID-19, could drive new waves of hoarding as cases climb, says retail futurist and consultant Doug Stephens.

“We live in a world of such privilege that to experience, even for a short time, what a remarkable portion of the world experiences every day, that it was a shock to our privileged systems in North America.”

Toilet paper, flour, disinfectant wipes, knitting needles and hand sanitizer have all been difficult to find at various times since March pandemic lockdowns took hold. As COVID-19 case numbers in Canada climb and cold weather and the flu season approach, Stephens says it’s “conceivable to see panic-buying 2.0.”

“If consumers sense more restrictions are coming, we could see another wave when human nature kicks in again and survival mode returns.”

Kraft Heinz Canada is gearing up for big demand for staples such as pasta sauces, peanut butter, coffee and boxed macaroni and cheese, and frozen food in the next few months, says chief administrative officer Av Maharaj.

“People are living with a lot of uncertainty, so having food in the cupboards is something that’s important,” he told CTVNews.ca from Toronto.

But he urges Canadians to trust in the supply chain, saying it’s held up “very well” in a time of crisis and has been able to ramp up production where needed.

“It may sound weird coming from a food company executive, but you don’t have to buy six cases of pasta sauce. We’ll make more (when demand soars). There is no need for panic buying.”

He acknowledges that in a “year like no one has ever seen,” it’s hard to predict future sales. But Kraft Heinz is anticipating the increase in eating at home will continue through the fall and winter.

Increasing supply to meet demand sometimes means limiting production of varieties of a product – organic or white Kraft Dinner, for instance – in favour of concentrating on top sellers, like Kraft Dinner Original.

Stephens says supply chain shortages are unpredictable, especially when manufacturing centres in Asia and South Asia are facing rapidly growing cases of COVID-19. That could hit the availability of consumer products down the road.

Outdoor recreation equipment, such as bikes, paddleboards and kayaks, were in short supply in the summer, and Stephens expects that could soon be the case for skis, snowshoes, snowboards and winter recreational vehicles.

People want to be outside, get active and “to be distracted from the events of the world,” Stephens said. That has also translated into strong sales for treadmills, spin cycles, rowing machines and other indoor fitness equipment.

“It’s going to be a long winter under COVID.”

Foregone southerly vacations will continue the uptick in home improvement spending, says Stephens. That includes investing in home offices and electronics, kitchens and appliances, and home entertainment and streaming services.

Stephens, who spoke to CTVNews.ca from Ancaster, Ont., also expects the shift to “analog entertainment,” such as crafting, board games and puzzles, to accelerate.

At his Zoroast The Fireplace Store just north of Toronto, Daniel Kimia said fireplaces, firepits and heaters are proving popular for homeowners and restaurant and business owners trying to keep outdoor operations open as the temperature drops.

"It's hard to keep up with the demand because there are shortages of raw materials for manufacturers making products," he told the Canadian Press.

Google Trends shows searches for patio heaters spiked 180 per cent in Canada over the same time last year, led by Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, with similar spikes for fire pits. Searches for propane fire pits are up 650 per cent.

Fireplaces, fire pits, fire tables and outdoor heaters are also in high demand at Home Depot Canada.

"Customers are creating multi-season backyards and balconies, so patio and garden products have maintained their popularity beyond the spring and summer months," said Carla Moreira, the company's trend and design manager, in an email.

Canadian Tire also expects “Canadians will be looking for ways to extend the season with help from outdoor heaters, barbecues and charcoal (a big trend this year that we anticipate to continue),” said spokesperson Cathy Kurzbock in an email to CTVNews.ca.

She said the retailer anticipates “a big spike in anything organization-related,” along with paint, space heaters, air purifiers, and cleaning products.

“Wellness will continue to be top of mind for Canadians as they look for ways to find joy this fall. We expect to see continued demand for exercise equipment, indoor games (we’re seeing a return of home ‘games rooms’ with ping pong tables, pool tables, etc), and winter cycling both indoors and outdoors.”

According to a blog by Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify, some of the trending products between March and August on its platform included peel-off face masks, nail polish, exercise bands, yoga and pilates mats, blankets, kayak accessories, kitchen and dining room furniture, jigsaw puzzles and board games.

Claire Hutchings, owner of Dilly Dally Kids Store in Vancouver, said educational toys and books, along with puzzles are big sellers.

The higher the number of puzzle pieces the better, she said, because buyers want to put them together as a family or work on them over several days.

"We probably sold 20 times more 1,000-piece puzzles this year than in all of last year and we haven't even hit Christmas yet," she said.

To ensure she has stock for the holiday crush, Hutchings has been ordering whatever she can get her hands on now.

"We've been thinking holiday shopping is going to start earlier and not be this big, crazy spike.”

Social media site Pinterest says life goals and travel searches have been replaced by personal growth, improvements, and mental wellness inquiries. “Positivity” is up 64 per cent, according to a company report provided to CTVNews.ca that compared data from July 2019 to July of this year.

Searches for “photoshoot ideas at home” are up 56 times among Gen Z users, who are also seeking out ideas for Zen or calming bedrooms. Millennial parents are preoccupied with schedules, workouts and mental health activities for kids.

The ranks of male Pinterest users have jumped 50 per cent since last year, says the San Francisco-based company that tipped over 400 million users last month. They are looking for help with homeschool activities, home improvement projects and workout routines.

With files from the Canadian Press

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