In supermarkets across Europe, inflation is leading to a surge in food theft

In countries like Greece, the UK and France, rising prices and the spread of automatic checkout machines have led to a surge in shoplifting. In response, retail stores are reinforcing their security measures.

By Eric Albert (London (United Kingdom) correspondent), Cécile Prudhomme , Cécile Boutelet (Berlin (Germany) correspondent), Sandrine Morel (Madrid (Spain) correspondent) and Marina Rafenberg (Athens (Greece) correspondent)
March 28, 2023

On February 12, 2022, a 70-year-old pensioner in great financial distress was arrested in the suburbs of Athens for shoplifting in a supermarket of the German brand Lidl. She had hidden in her bag €40 worth of meat and cheese. Her arrest sparked a movement of solidarity, with several Lidl stores vandalized and the company ultimately withdrawing its complaint.

Last month in Spain, the Basque television channel ETB broadcasted a live segment on rising food prices in grocery stores. As the reporter stood near the checkout counter of a San Sebastian supermarket, viewers saw in the background a young man in jogging pants with bulging pockets ring the security gates before being chased down by a cashier and a security guard. On Twitter, some wondered if it was “the kid who [was] stealing or the supermarket with its prices.”

In a Coop supermarket in London, £5.99 (€6.80) steaks are kept in huge, intimidating plastic boxes protected by GPS trackers. Unlocking the precious product requires going to the only cashier in the store, as all the other checkouts are automatic. “We have to put locks on them because they get stolen all the time,” she explained. “But that doesn’t really stop people. They’ll often grab a few boxes and run to the exit. It’s hard to stop them.”

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In Berlin, the situation is very similar in the Lidl supermarket in the working-class district of Gesundbrunnen. In the meat and fish fridge, an eye-catching yellow label reads “secured item.” Several products have been equipped with the same protective devices: a €9.99 salmon fillet from Norway, budget minced beef and a beef steak from Uruguay. “These are [the ones] that are most often stolen,” explained an employee. “Everything here gets stolen, especially since prices started to rise.”

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