how the coronavirus staple went from mechanic shops to consumer shelves

Panic buying over the coronavirus pandemic has led to a variety of household products flying off the shelves at your local grocery store.

That includes staples, like bread and toilet paper, as well as one product that’s only been commercially available for a few decades, but which many people clearly now view as a necessity: hand sanitizer.

Purchases of the disinfecting gel have skyrocketed in the U.S. ever since the first case of COVID-19 hit the country. During the last week of February, a period that saw the first American death from COVID-19, hand sanitizer sales in the U.S. were up by 300% compared to the same week a year earlier, according to market research from Nielsen.

The following week, the first week of March, hand sanitizer sales shot up by 470% compared to the same week a year earlier, Nielsen tells CNBC Make It. That’s in an industry that already sees more than $200 million in annual sales of hand sanitizer products in the U.S., according to Nielsen.

Supermarkets and pharmacies across the country have sold out of hand sanitizer, leaving only empty shelves where disinfectant products would normally be found.

With some consumers even hoarding hand sanitizer amid the shortage, online prices for the products soared, leading law enforcement officials in many states to threaten prosecution for price-gouging against third-party sellers on sites like Walmart and Amazon (where an 8-ounce bottle of Purell that would normally cost $2.50 was briefly on sale for $90 before being removed by Amazon in early March).

What’s more, the run on hand sanitizer also came as health officials across the country have remained adamant that the best way for people to combat the spread of potentially dangerous germs is simply through diligent hand-washing with soap and water. (For what it’s worth, the U.S. soap industry is worth more than $2 billion per year. Sales of hand soap in the U.S. have jumped by “double-digit” percentage points during the coronavirus pandemic, but nowhere near the increase of hand sanitizer sales, according to Nielsen’s research.)