May 22, 2020 / 2:08 AM / 15 days ago

Children's books, puzzles and wireless bras: the Canadian products thriving in a pandemic

TORONTO (Reuters) - A children’s bookshop in Halifax, a game store in Vancouver, and a Toronto-based company making wireless bras and loungewear are among the few companies and products that have become necessities for Canada’s households during a pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A student is escorted into the schoolyard by a teacher as schools outside the greater Montreal region begin to reopen their doors amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

Consumer data from the Statistics Canada agency show a brief spike in perishable goods in mid-March, an expected rise amid panic buying as coronavirus lockdowns came into effect across the country. Sales of alcohol, coffee filters, hair coloring and cutting supplies also rose through March and April.

But other niche sectors have also benefited from changing consumer spending habits.

NPD Group, a market research agency in Canada focusing on retail data, said video games and toy sales have skyrocketed - puzzles alone in Canada rose by 277% in April.

“Anything that can keep your family occupied for longer periods of time,” Armin Begic, executive director of NPD Group told Reuters on Wednesday.

Woozles, a children’s bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia, recorded sales growth in April from a year ago, even with limited hours and online or phone orders only - not something that owner Liz Crocker expected when she let go most of her staff in mid-March.

“People are home with their kids and they’re going, ‘Holy moly, what do I do?’ The school may or may not be sending work,” she said.

Andrea Robertson, co-owner of Rain City Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, said the store sold 1200 puzzles since the lockdown began in Canada’s westernmost province, during a time when they would normally sell a maximum of 200.

“Puzzles kept us afloat the first month,” Robertson said, adding that it was a “huge weight off our shoulders” to see the numbers working out.

Although the apparel industry overall declined, Begic said, “things that make you comfortable and snug at home are doing better.”

Knix, a Toronto-based clothing company known for its leak-proof menstrual underwear, found that its products such as wireless bras and loungewear were suddenly in demand as women moved away from uncomfortable underwired bras, and the need for business clothing evaporated.

“We were at the intersection of a whole bunch of products that people were looking for,” Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO, said.

So far in May, sales are tracking a 105% increase, allowing them to keep any retail employees who wished to stay on, she said.

The surge caught Griffiths by surprise.

“In the early days, I had a little bit of what’s called survivor guilt,” she said.

The trends show no signs of stopping as long as the pandemic continues, said Michael LeBlanc, senior retail advisor at the Retail Council of Canada, an industry advocacy group.

“There is disposable income at play here that wasn’t on the table before,” LeBlanc said, pointing to a decrease in spending on gas and restaurants.

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas and and Aurora Ellis

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