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Face mask demand prompts some shops to limit sales

Finland's health authority THL is expected to issue regionally-based face mask guidelines on Thursday.

Kasvomaskeja pöydällä.
File photo of a reusable face mask (on left) beside a disposable mask. Image: Toni Määttä / Yle

Following a surge in sales of face masks in Finland, retail cooperative S-Group has said it plans to limit sales of the personal protective gear to prevent hoarding of the protective gear.

Earlier this month there were reports of consumers stockpiling face masks at shops following reports that the Institute for Health and Welfare THL was expected to recommend mask wearing in public spaces and on public transport.

Such an announcement did not come as soon as anticipated, but on Tuesday, the ministry of social affairs and health's permanent secretary, Kirsi Varhila, said that THL plans to hold a press conference on Thursday, which would include recommendations regarding the use of face masks by the general public.

According to preliminary information, the guidelines may recommend the use of masks on public transportation, among other situations.

Last week, the City of Turku issued its own recommendations regarding face mask use on public transport, ahead of national guidelines.

S-Group limits sales

S-Group, which runs supermarket chains including Prisma and S-Market across the country, is already limiting sales of the protective equipment to 100 masks per customer, according to S-Group's product director Janne Paananen.

Demand for masks has sharply increased over the past week in the regions of Northern Ostrobothnia and Kainuu, as well as others.

Sales of face masks grew at the Arina cooperative, one of S-Group's superstores in northwestern Finland's Oulu, last week when it emerged that THL was about to announce recommendations on their use, according to the shop's head of sales Mikko Polso.

He said that mask sales will be restricted across the region due to possible shortfalls.

No limits in Kainuu yet

However in Kainuu, about 200 km south-east of Oulu, limits on face mask purchases have not yet been implemented, but such a move is being considered, according to Arto Mustanen, division director of the regional conglomerate Osuuskauppa Maakunta.

Mustanen said on Monday that there are adequate levels of face masks in stock and that additional deliveries are expected this and next week, adding that he is awaiting instructions from authorities on guidelines.

"Work has been done to ensure an adequate supply of masks, but [as the situation moves forward] it is difficult to predict," he said.

The manager of home and specialty goods at the Prisma supermarket in Kajaani, Satu Oilinki, said the outlet still had a good supply.

"Masks will continue to be available, they will not run out," she said.

Kesko considering purchase limits

S-Group's supermarket duopoly competitor Kesko has also seen brisk sales of face masks, according to the firm's purchasing manager Jenni Moisanen, adding that sales of the protective gear multiplied last week compared to earlier in the summer.

Moisanen said Kesko may place purchase limits on masks in order to ensure their supply, adding that there could be some shortfalls in supply in future but the firm was regularly monitoring the situation.

In addition to Kesko and S-Group outlets, face masks sales were up at the discount retail chain Tokmanni outlet in Sotkamo, according to the store's department manager Katja Tervo, who added that hand sanitiser sales have also been rising.

Cloth mask sales rise

Meanwhile, the Kajaani-based fashion company R-Collection, which also manufactures reusable cloth face masks, noted a spike in sales last week, prompting the firm to start up production of them again.

R-Collection and several other fashion and fabric firms, including Tampere-based Finlayson, began manufacturing face masks as the epidemic spread in the spring.

Mari Määttä, from R-Collection's sales and marketing department, said masks had been selling at a steady pace since early summer.

"In just the past two weeks, there's been a clear change in sales. They started to sell [in higher numbers again]. There's talk of making tens of thousands of masks at the moment," she said.

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