MONTREAL -- After a marked increase in in-store traffic at its brick-and-mortar stores at the end of March when containment measures were deployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) saw its online sales "explode '' by about 200 per cent, and that has shaken up the way the crown corporation is doing things, its president and CEO said.

Usually, online sales account for around two per cent of the SAQ's overall sales, with the vast majority of online SAQ orders being delivered to branches for customers to pick up. But as a result of the pandemic, some 70 per cent of SAQ customers are opting for home delivery, Catherine Dagenais, president and CEO of the SAQ, told a virtual conference organized by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce metropolitan on Tuesday.

As a result, delivery times have been longer than the three to five days originally planned, she added, noting that the wait for delivery now ranges from five to seven days.

Dagenais said the SAQ has so far absorbed the price increase that should have been levied this month due to an increase in excise duties and exchange rates, as the euro and the US dollar appreciate against the loonie.

An adjustment is likely to be made by the end of the summer, she hinted.

As the SAQ was included on the list of services deemed essential by the Legault government, the Crown corporation has been able to continue its activities since the start of the pandemic and even expects to pay out  a dividend higher than the $1.2 billion expected by the government for the fiscal year that ended March 31.

While its branches are closed on Sundays and customer traffic is much more controlled than usual, Dagenais did not want to comment on whether the SAQ would hit the dividend target of $1.25 billion set by Quebec for the current fiscal year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.