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Grocery shoplifting on the rise in Canada amid inflation, industry experts say

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Sharif Hassan, Canadian Press

Posted Saturday, December 17, 2022 9:24 am EST

Shoplifting has risen at an alarming level across Canada, industry experts say, citing inflation and labor shortages as the main factors behind the rise.

The rebound has raised concerns among Canadian retailers, even as rising food prices help boost their bottom line. Grocery prices rose 11 percent year-over-year in October and are not expected to decline any time soon. The total cost of food for a family of four is expected to be $1,065 more than this year, according to the most recent edition of the Canada Food Price Report.

Food price inflation is one of the main factors driving more people to steal, says Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analysis Laboratory at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“There is a correlation between the two, absolutely. Theft is a constant problem. But the intensity actually increases when food prices go up,” he said, noting that meat and dairy are the top two items stolen.

He warned that the problem could grow if the economy slows next year, as some economists suggest.

“If you see food prices go up and… the economy slows down, in aggregate that’s when you basically see even more stuff.”

Charlebois said inflation and grocery theft affect each other, which means that when prices rise, shoplifting increases, and to make up for the loss, businesses have no choice but to raise prices further.

“Theft will cost everyone more because someone has to pay for that (stolen) food,” he said. “You and I paid for the robbery.”

Felicia Fefer, corporate affairs manager for Walmart Canada, said the retail giant has seen a record rise in theft.

“Retail crime, including theft and arson, is sadly higher than it has historically been at Walmart Canada and throughout the retail industry,” he said.

“This is very concerning for our business, our associates, our customers and the industry.”

Fefer said the company is implementing measures to prevent and reduce theft in order to keep prices low and keep its employees and customers safe.

Metro and Loblaw declined to comment on the matter, referring The Canadian Press to the Retail Council of Canada. Sobeys did not respond to a request for comment.

Labor shortages are also contributing to the rise in shoplifting, said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“There is great concern among Canadian businesses right now about crime and crime in Canadian workplaces,” he said. “Theft is definitely being felt more, especially now that we are out of lockdown and restrictions.”

Kelly said some grocery stores are struggling to hire new staff, and when businesses don’t have enough employees to do physical monitoring, they could be in a vulnerable position.

“If you have fewer people in the front of the store, if you know if you have a person involved in the business at the back checkout,” he said, “it leads to the business being a target for robbery.”

“Less people on the floor… makes it a little less intimidating for thieves to go in and get a drink,” he said, adding that both employees and customers feel more “intimidated and nervous” going into stores. .

As a result, more retail stores, even smaller ones, are hiring security guards, including off-duty police officers. They are also taking other steps, such as modernizing to ensure they have a clearer view inside the business, using more electronic monitoring technology, and limiting the number of people in the store so they can provide personalized service.

As customers who bought more online during the pandemic return to stores, retail crime has been seen rising across Canada, says Michelle Wasylyshen, a spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada.

He pointed to the economic downturn, a growing resale market for stolen goods and a rise in organized crime as other factors behind the rise.

While it’s hard to know the exact impact of theft on local businesses because much of the crime goes unreported, council estimates suggest that retail crime cost $5 billion in losses in 2019 in Canada.

Wasylyshen said the council is not collecting data on whether there is any connection between inflation and shoplifting, but “theft tends to increase during economic downturns.”

“We also know that break-ins, armed robberies, and physical and especially violent incidents are higher than in previous years,” he said.

Greeting customers as they enter to acknowledge their presence and keeping excess inventory off the store floor could be an effective loss-prevention strategy for stores, Wasylyshen said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 17, 2022.

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