Why Shoplifters Steal Meat From Grocery Stores

When asked about your most bizarre experience as a loss prevention manager, you will probably have enough stories to fill a book – especially in supermarkets and grocery stores where shoplifters are stuffing honey-baked hams into their handbags or packing as many Purloined Sirloins down their pants as can fit.

And while some stories are funny to recount later, stealing meat is a serious issue: Every year millions of pounds of beef, pork and veal disappears from the shelves. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, thieves get away with more than $35 million worth of goods each day.

Meat Most Attractive For Shoplifters

Grocery stores, in general, have seen a sharp spike in theft as they expand their product offerings beyond food and beverage categories. Price and value often dictate hot theft items, with multiple grocers saying the hottest theft items right now include Tide detergent, Gillette razors, infant formula, electronics, batteries, fragrance, and over-the-counter drugs, particularly Prilosec and Abreva. Meat remains the most attractive category for shrinkage.

According to Heather Garlich of the Food Marketing Institute, it is not surprising that “we’ve been witnessing a steady increase in theft of meat at retail for the last several years. [We know] from anecdotal discussions with our food retail and wholesale members, meat and health and beauty aids, are indeed the highest ranked products for ‘.’” As mentioned in our previous blog, the COVID-19 crisis has caused meat prices to rise as major meat processing facilities have shut down or slowed operations. While at the same time, demand for meat in grocery stores has gone up due to more people eating at home. Beef prices climbed with more than 11% compared to 2019. Due to this, we expect an even bigger increase in theft of meat for 2020.

Desperation Or Need Are Not The Primary Drivers

Whenever the issue of theft of food items is discussed, the general assumption is the culprit acted out of desperation or need to feed themselves. You feel yourself empathizing with the shoplifter — even trying to somehow justify their crime.

However, most of the meat that is stolen are expensive cuts such as lamb chops, filet mignon or Angus beef. The meat-lifting is done by people who can afford to buy groceries but want to occasionally reward themselves (“I worked so hard, I deserve a good steak!”) or out of a false sense of entitlement. “Most theft is greed, not need,” says Dr. Read Hayes of the Loss Prevention Research Council. “They certainly don’t need the steak, but they talk themselves into self-justifying the behavior. It’s a big corporation; they charge too much; everyone does it.”

Shoplifting is primarily impulsive. Seven in 10 shoplifters don’t plan their heists in advance, says Barbara Staib of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. There are certainly organized professionals, but most shrinkage comes from regular individuals.

Locking Away Is Not An Option

While retailers and drugstores have been locking up hot items — such as cough medicines containing pseudoephedrine, perfumes, and cigarettes — into secure display cases or behind safe counters, this is not entirely possible for meat. Some stores are hiring security guards and training staff to watch for suspicious behavior—a challenge, because, well, there’s no stereotypical meat . Some grocery store retailers have gone as far as hiring special investigators to walk their stores, focusing on their meat section.

Prosecution & Other Consequences

The most effective deterrent for theft is being prosecuted. However, most police departments are rather short-staffed and will not have the manpower to come and arrest every single person stealing $20 worth of steak. In Dallas, Texas stealing under $50 will not be pursued at all.

So, what is a store to do? Other than posting codes of conducts and barring past offenders from reentering their stores?

How Can You Protect Your Meat Products?

Grocers are turning to technology to deter thieves. An effective option is the use of Electronic Article Surveillance technology, combined with new innovative food-safe security tags that hold up to refrigeration and freezing, are microwave-safe and conforms with health- and sanitation standards.

How to determine which anti-theft label to use?

It is essential to secure your meat products using anti-theft labels that are designed to withstand moist and cold conditions over long periods of time. In order to provide the best security, you need to consider the packaging and product while also assessing where the labels should be applied and under which conditions. Key factors to determine which anti-theft labels to use on meat products are:

  • Product
  • Packaging
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Label application (In-store vs. Source tagging)
  • Shelf life / expiration date

Based on the factors mentioned, we offer different types of adhesive and different top layers to make sure that the anti-theft label performs at its best. The labels are designed to withstand cold and moist conditions over longer periods of time and can be applied close to the actual product without the risk of detuning or detaching.

Options include:

  • Labels for deep frozen products
  • Waterproof labels for chilled products
  • Paper labels for chilled products
  • Auto-apply labels

The auto-apply label is applied at source during the packaging phase. These are especially designed for automatic application and can be “sandwiched” between the brand/product label and the packaging.

Want to learn more?

Whitepaper: How to Secure Chilled and Frozen Meat

This white paper explains the options for tagging chilled and frozen meat products with dedicated electronic article surveillance (EAS) labels.

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