Retailers See Tobacco Sales Rise Amid Pandemic

Category is one of two experiencing higher demand during COVID-19 crisis, CSP survey finds
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CHICAGO — An informal survey of CSP readers done in late March showed tobacco and packaged beverages were two categories that respondents saw the most increases in dollar sales during the COVID-19 emergency.

When retailers were asked which categories were dramatically up in dollar sales, tobacco was No. 1, with 56% of 154 people responding. Packaged beverages came in second at 54% and packaged snacks was third at 38%. Respondents could pick as many of the eight categories (including “other”) as they wanted.

The survey adds to a mixed picture of how consumers are reacting to the health emergency, especially with regard to the tobacco category. Earlier in the month, at least two analysts reported that demand for tobacco products had not changed during the crisis.

Meanwhile, officials with the Circle K chain saw increases in both tobacco and beer. “We’ve certainly seen some items of higher demand,” said Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard, the parent company of Circle K, during its March 18 earnings call. “And you can think about kind of the staples that people are stocking up on, [like] water, tobacco products, even beer.”

  • Couche-Tard is No. 2 on the Top 40 update to CSP’s 2019 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by number of retail outlets. CSP will release the complete 2020 list in June.

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