Grocery enjoys record spending jump in March as the rest of retail closes

Spending across New Zealand dropped dramatically in March, with total retail sales seeing the biggest fall on record – at a $231 million drop or 3.9 per cent.

Falls in every category barring grocery were caused by COVID-19 containment measures, with many industries unable to open up across New Zealand as the government kicked off its Stage-4 lockdown.

“This hit hospitality hard. Restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as hotels, motels, and other accommodation, saw sales drop sharply,” StatsNZ retail statistics manager Sue Chapman said.

In total, the hospitality industry saw a 30 per cent drop, or $338 million, in spending during March as travel restrictions saw fewer and fewer inbound tourists spending in New Zealand.

Sales in fashion also saw a dramatic drop, down 31 per cent or $98 million, while furniture, hardware and appliances sales fell 3.9 per cent or $57 million.

Spending on groceries, however, jumped 17 per cent or $376 million. According to Chapman, this is the largest increase in grocery sales by dollar value and percentage since StatsNZ started covering retail spending in 2002.

“Supermarkets remain open as an essential business and there have been widespread reports of people stocking up on food as the month progressed,” Chapman said.


The impact across the March 2020 quarter was just as severe, with six of eight industries measured seeing a fall in spending compared to the preceding quarter.

Grocery rose 6.6 per cent over the quarter to $421 million – a record increase in groceries for a quarter – while the durables sector, made up of furniture, pharmaceuticals and department stores, rose by just $22.5 million.

Across the remainder of the industries, hospitality fell $249.7 million, apparel fell $96.1 million, services fell $77.1 million, fuel fell $69 million, and motor vehicles fell $27.6 million .

Non-retail spending fell by $279.9 million over the quarter.

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