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The most-stolen grocery item

What do sticky fingers find irresistible? The food item most tempting to shoplifters worldwide might surprise you.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 14, 2011 2:31PM

This post comes from Jeanine Skowronski at partner site MainStreet.


Jean Valjean might have gone after a loaf of bread, but research reveals cheese is actually the food that's most likely to disappear from grocery stores due to theft.


Worldwide, the dairy product has a 3.09% shrinkage rate, besting fresh meat (2.79%), and chocolate and confectionery candy (2.78%) globally, according to the U.K.-based Centre for Retail Research. The shrinkage rate measures the amount of products received that go missing from store inventories due to theft or errors.


Chocolate and confectionery candy, however, were more in demand in North America, with a shrinkage rate of 3.60%. In North America, cheese is actually much less in demand when compared with other parts of the world. Its 2.76% North American shrinkage rate also lags behind infant formula, luxury cooked meats and alcohol.


The data are part of a larger survey by the U.K. retail and consultancy organization that has found retail shrinkage rates are on the rise. So far, retailers have lost $119 billion to theft in 2011, up 6.6% since last year.


Additionally, the cost of retail crime plus loss prevention was $128 billion in 2011, equivalent to $199.89 per family or $66.27 per individual.


According to the survey’s findings, dishonest employees cause $41.7 billion or 35% of losses. Customer theft, including shoplifting and organized retail crime, cost retailers $51.5 billion in 2011 (43.2% of total shrinkage), compared with $45.4 billion last year. Post continues below.

Shrinkage can also be caused by internal errors, including mispricing, invoicing errors and administrative failure.


The data are based on responses from major retailers in all business sectors in 43 countries. The survey’s full results are available on the Centre for Retail Research website.


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:

Nov 15, 2011 4:26PM
You are dead wrong to say it is all poor people who steal. Once when I was down on my luck I went in to the store manager and said, I'm waiting for my check but I don't have it yet and my children are hungry.  They gave me about $40.00 worth of food and I went in as soon as I had my check and paid them and spent more.  Then, they became my regular store because they were so understanding.  Not everyone will do this for you, but instead of stealing, you can at least ask.  Now, I try to pay it forward by supporting our local food bank.  So many people just don't have a conscience any more.  It's a shame and so sad. 
Nov 14, 2011 3:35PM
Nov 14, 2011 4:43PM
Cheese is not the most stolen item. I worked in a grocery store for 6 years. A store is alloted a percentage of shrink based on sales, payroll, etc.. However a lot of employees will just throw a bad product out without adjusting the inventory with a reason. It appears the item has been stolen when actually an employee threw away 25 cases of expired cheese throughout the year.
Nov 15, 2011 4:40PM
 "Excuse me Sir, Is that a cheese log in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
Nov 14, 2011 4:06PM

Shrinkage in the dairy and meat categories is primarily due to shelf-life issues, not theft. This article is beyond bad.

Nov 15, 2011 3:19PM
As an individual that worked in retail for over 30 years, I can pretty much confirm that the data is true.  What the data shows is that the people stealing took things that were non-essentials and that were taken because they couldn't afford them.  Before anyone says "they took formula" that item was stolen, returned for cash, and used to buy alcohol, tobacco, or lottery tickets.  That's why most stores now have tracking devices on the cans of formula now.  Most of the time (speaking for myself) when I was a manager and caught someone stealing bread, hamburger, or some other basic items; I took them outside and "scolded" them, and they left with their few items and a harsh warning not to do it again.  I never saw those people steal again.  It's the people that steal $20/lb shrimp or Filet de mignon that always annoyed me.  Just because you can't afford it, doesn't mean you're entitled to it.  Most of us can't afford it on a regular basis either.  Deal with it.  And cheese..... that's usually taken by younger people who can't afford lunch meat for their sandwiches but have to have protein and are tired of peanut butter.  
Nov 14, 2011 4:21PM
I can see this, cheeses are expensive.  Shrinkage sounds like something the girlfriend would complain about.  Wasn't this a Seinfeld episode?
Nov 15, 2011 4:08PM
I would think GRAPES would be the most stolen item in a grocery store...
Nov 15, 2011 5:00PM
 i have worked in the loss prevention industry for several years. #1 shrinkage numbers on actual cause is a best guess on were the merchandise went. As far as grocery Items I have been over thousands of shoplifter cases and only a handfull are from actual grocery items, Most grocery shrinkage is caused by poor accounting practices and shortages from suppliers. Dairy is mainly direct store delivery for every retailer. Same in fresh meat when you calculate an actual meat cutting business there is losses in just process from whole cuts into retail cuts with trimming and poor quality meat cutters. Electronics, Health and beauty Aids , apparel , and pharmacy OTC will always be the main story if you talk to someone actually in Loss Prevention industry. I bet its also not worth mentioning 3 in 10 Pharmacy proffesionals diverts and is hooked on  controlled substances. This artical is a non story. There are much bigger fish to fry out there.
Nov 15, 2011 2:40PM
I read with amusement that several of you think it's the poor that steal.  Wrong!  It's the ones who think thy are entitled, and the ones who get a thrill out of it.  The "poor" get all their necessary food for free.  Their kids are fed free breakfast and free lunch and they get food stamps fo feed them dinner and over the weekend.  I've had the occasion to witness a few thefts in my life.  One was smoking up a storm before he tried to rip off the convenient store.  The cost of the cigarettes he paid for could have bought him couple of meals.  Another was stealing a video game.  If he had the video game system to play it on, he obviously had enough money to buy food.  And the woman I witnessed trying to steal food was driving a newer model car.  I drive one that's 10 years old.  Believe me, it is not the "poor" who are stealing.
Nov 15, 2011 12:53PM

    Well those numbers are impressive, but how do they compare to the amount of money lost due to the product going off, or past its freshness/expiration date & being destroyed?

    How many starving people could have been fed if the manufacturers required retailers to donate the close to expiration dated products to local homeless/women's shelters, soup kitchens, and/or food pantries? Most of these organizations do not stockpile, in fact are unable to stockpile due to the need.


Nov 15, 2011 4:25PM
It's not surprising that cheese is the most stolen item, since thieves and rats are both vermin, and everyone knows that rats love cheese.
Nov 15, 2011 9:59AM
I'm from Michigan and was surprised when I went to Texas a few years ago by how many packages were opened and eaten out of in the grocery stores. In the pharmacys there were open packages of sealed medicines on the shelves. It was difficult to find some things that weren't tampered with.
Nov 15, 2011 2:49PM
avatar is NOT just the poor who is those who think they can get away with it...their excuse is that "no one will miss it" or "I am entitled" because I am owed a living....though I am surprised to hear that it is cheese...
Nov 14, 2011 8:17PM

When I worked for Kroger the GM department took a bigger hit. Sudafed and Actifed till it was removed to behind the counter then condoms and dvd's. Alot of over the counter medicine and it has high dollar prices.


Dairy probably comes up in shrinkage due to dated merchandise that gets pulled then counted and tossed. I seen many still good items get tossed the day they went out. Stores also write off that shrinkage too. Basically, they sell it to uncle sam and throw it in the garbage.

Nov 15, 2011 4:45PM
It is never ok to steal. The government provides food benefits to those who can truly not work (and many that can but claim parenthood as a disability). Churches and charitable organizations also provide. But yeah, I agree, stealing bread is a different level of crime than stealing  Air Jordans would be....
Nov 14, 2011 4:07PM
It's your basic "Tug-of-War" battle here folks.  Since employment is down (considerably) it's only natural that crime rates will skyrocket as a result!  With no solutions being presented, I can't really see a thing changing anytime soon...
Nov 15, 2011 3:56PM
What I've seen lately at the grocery store is disgusting. I have seen several women who return half eaten packages of food to the store. Some of the items haven't been opened, probably a"buy one-get one-free" item. I asked the cashier about it and she said the store policy is they will refund your money for any reason if you are not satisified.One woman had five boxes of cereal that were all almost empty.
Nov 14, 2011 11:03PM
I worked in grocery sores for about 15 years .. People stole more meat than anything.. They STUFFED the meat down their pants.
Nov 15, 2011 5:13AM

Before reading this story I thought to myself...grapes!  Definitely grapes.   lol   Guess I don't know too many meth addicts.


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