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What’s the Beef? Why Meat is Top of the List for Supermarket Shoplifters

SafetyCulture News | By | 23 Aug 2018 | 3 minute read

retail theft

Australians are the world’s biggest meat-eaters. On average we consume 90.21 kilograms of meat every year, beating our American cousins by 170 grams.

Of that we each eat about 26 kilograms of beef annually, spending about $8.5 billion on beef products, according to Meat & Livestock Australia.

In Australia, beef prices have risen 24 per cent over the past five years. The increase is largely blamed on supply issues due to drought-affected cattle stocks.

Against that backdrop, it’s no wonder meat tops the list of most stolen items from stores. There are also reports of black-market gangs stealing on a meat-to-order basis.

The Australian Retail Association says retail theft across the board costs the industry up to $9.3 billion annually—that’s 3 per cent of total turnover. The Global Retail Theft Barometer estimates Australian stock loss is 39 per cent shoplifting and 25 per cent employee theft.

Self-service theft is an increasing focus for retailers.  The impersonal nature of it “normalising” shoplifting because it removes the customer from an identifiable victim. Earlier this year a man in Germany tried to scan $75 worth of veal liver as fruit using self-service. He was fined $326,000.

In 2017, a Queensland woman was charged after an elaborate scam where she photocopied barcodes from two-minute noodles.  She attached them to labels and stuck them on more expensive goods. She stole at least $4500 worth of product on 31 different occasions.

Researchers Canstar Blue reported that 7 per cent of shoppers admit to stealing an item through self-service by not scanning it. A further 9 per cent put items through as a cheaper alternative. Fruit and vegetables are the most commonly stolen item, then packaged foods, snacks and drinks.

While companies investigate ways to reduce stock loss through self-service checkouts, an Australian startup has developed a product-recognition system that could help combat theft and mean the end of barcodes altogether. Tiliter Technology is developing “smart checkouts” that use cameras to automatically identify products. The technology is currently being trialled.

There’s also increased interest in security labels or tags to combat theft. New South Wales printers Hally Labels make security labels with a secret trigger that activates alarms at the store exit if the product is not scanned.  Supermarket chains across New Zealand are using the labels. Coles has also been rolling out “security protected” tags on meat products across some of its stores.

Alongside razor blades and cosmetics, another product high on the theft list is baby formula. Black-market gangs are reportedly stealing it, or buying in bulk and on-selling to China for profits of up to $100 a tin. The huge Chinese demand stems from poor quality formula in China resulting in hundreds of thousands of babies poisoned.

Coles has responded by putting its baby formula behind the counter “to provide equal opportunity for all customers and deter theft”, with other retailers imposing two-tin purchase limits.

Government agency the Australian Institute of Criminology says employee awareness and education is key to combating retail theft.

It suggests reducing loss through strict stock monitoring procedures and clear staff policies  to detect and detain suspects. It also suggests that a whopping 62 per cent of retail theft might be carried out by staff. The AIC suggests that employee-driven theft is more common when staff and management have poor working relationships.

“Promoting strong, open and positive relationships between staff and management may go some way to addressing employee theft,” it says.

Improving culture around compliance and inspection is one of the fastest and easiest ways to combat stock losses, from the shop floor through to the entire supply chain. iAuditor digitises best practice processes and stock monitoring to protect profits and empower employees. Digital inspections on mobile devices are simple. They can be done quickly by staff at all levels, producing instant reports that allow clear visibility of where issues lie so they can be acted upon.

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