Canadians Shoplifting At Grocery Stores
Why some Canadians are currently cutting costs by shoplifting groceries from the store.
Shoplifting Canadians at Grocery Stores
Honest Canadians are shoplifting at grocery stores

Why some Canadians are currently cutting costs by shoplifting groceries.


Back in November, I posted a rant on how crazy food prices are getting and another post on how these greedy empires are getting away with it. I also said to myself and others back then that I foresaw a huge increase in people shoplifting in grocery stores in order to feed themselves and their families. Well, as it turn out, I was right.

This is a tale of how one grocery shopper, who we’ll call Bob, turned to such methods to feed his family.

In the cheese section of his neighborhood grocery store, Bob began his criminal career about seven months ago. He and his wife and their two young children were to have fettuccine alfredo for dinner, and the recipe called for a block of cheddar. The brand-name cheese he was about to put in his cart, didn’t seem to be quite good enough. It was nothing fancy.

Bob was looking at more expensive cheeses when he noticed that the prices were essentially double what they had been the previous month due to inflation, which was driving up prices at an ever-increasing rate. If everyone has a breaking point, then the cheese was his. He placed a premium cheddar in his cart and proceeded to the self-checkout. He carefully scanned every item except the cheese, which he held up to the scanner with the barcode facing away from it.

It was a brazen act of grocery store banditry committed by a parent who was otherwise honest, owned a home, was employed, and had a good education.

I said, “Screw it, I don’t care, I’m taking the cheese,” and I started with that.

Since then, Bob—not his real name—has advanced to stealing meat and bread. He shops after work and steals from stores because he lives in southwest Ontario. He doesn’t have a fake mustache or any other disguise, and he will confidently, though politely, chat up store employees, some of whom he has gotten to know in the same way that we all get to know the local grocery store employees we see every few days but don’t really know.

grocery store shopping shoplifting
Shoplifting Photo by Pixabay on

This is not about thrill-seeking

He wants to knock 25% off of each bill – his goal as a thief. Every penny he doesn’t spend at the self-checkout is put toward some other urgent household expense: the mortgage, bills, the kids, or just living.

There is no thrill-seeking involved in this, Bob clarified. Everything has gone up in price.”

Statistics Canada reported in March that consumer inflation had slowed to 5.2 percent in February, but supermarket prices continued to soar, rising over 10 percent on an annual basis. Since many Canadians are experiencing financial hardship, some are now stealing groceries.

Not professional thieves who view theft as their day job, but rather everyday Joes and Sams. Shopping customers, playing the game of moral limbo, weighing what they knew to be true—that stealing is wrong—against what they also knew to be true—that prices have gone bananas and that supermarkets are making huge profits. Many people are entering a place where “thou shalt steal because household finances are tight” has become an operational commandment, frequently in the automated self-checkout line, but also at cash registers staffed by gangly teenagers and other part-timers.

While this is going on, it appears that the Big Three supermarket chains have their own rules regarding shoplifting, the most important of which is that you must not discuss it in public. Both Loblaw, Sobeys, Safeway, and other brands, “politely” declined to comment on the situation. A Metro Inc. company representative acknowledged that “we typically see an increase in shoplifting during periods of high inflation such as these. “.

Theft is a “huge problem” at one grocery store in the Toronto area, but the owner claimed that a bigger issue would be employees who hesitate to report it for fear of facing repercussions from “head office.”

According to an industry insider who asked to remain anonymous, the grocers’ hesitation on the subject can be partially explained by their perception that there is no benefit to whining about shoplifting. The drawback is that loyal, upright, and battered by inflation customers might get the impression that they are being viewed as a mass of potential small-time criminals.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor and specialist in the food industry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, stated that “theft is a taboo subject among grocers.”

grocery store shopping shoplifting
Shoplifting Photo by Eminumana on

However, it is obvious from their actions that grocery stores are aware that theft is on the rise. Some stores have eliminated the sale of wine and beer, which are highly desirable items for thieves. Some are requiring customers to completely empty their carts onto the checkout stands. Some stores are either adding a security guard to stand watch or asking for the receipt upon exit. But thieves always manage to get around whatever plan they employ.

It’s challenging to find information about the theft. But according to Charlebois’ best, albeit unreliable, estimate, each store experiences a weekly loss from theft of $2,000 to $5,000. The annual losses due to theft could total as much as $635 million (Loblaw), $415 million (Empire), and $250 million (Metro), if you use the upper limit of that ballpark estimate as a starting point and do some quick mental math by multiplying the number of stores each of the big three grocers operates by $5,000.

The annual cumulative loss from theft for the major grocers would still be around $100 million, even if you reduce those numbers by 90% because they are grossly exaggerated.

According to a recent survey by Charlebois and his colleagues at Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, 30% of Canadian consumers believe price gouging by retailers is the “main reason” for high prices at stores. That is a lot of cheddar cheese, and it suggests the degree of moral hazard being played by the vast majority of Canadian consumers.

People believe that supermarkets are making a profit, he claimed. And if you think a retailer is making a profit, you could say that the business is stealing, so why not steal back?

The automated self-checkout further clouded our society’s morality. Machines have existed since the middle of the 1980s. Among the first adopters in Canada was an Ultra Food and Drug in a suburban area of Toronto. Chairman of A&P at the time, Gerald Good. In April 1993, the parent company of the shop met Keith Morrison, co-anchor of CTV Canada AM, in the “power lane” to show him the new technology.

Morrison enquired about theft. Good retorted that the “computer had some sensors” that would eliminate any issues. Morrison enquired as to the company’s motivation for putting in the machines and questioned whether it wasn’t part of a larger plan to lay off workers. Good sidestepped the question and stuck to the company line about how the machines better serve “customers,” which is a half-truth if there ever was one.

The public and unemployed cashiers are aware of this. They are aware that a machine is not human, a fact that can have an impact on their decisions—including the criminal ones they make when they approach an automated self-checkout machine.

June Cotte, a marketing professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business in London, said that experts in consumer behavior describe shoplifting at self-checkout as a type of “consumer misbehavior.”

Consumers aren’t good or bad, she continued. “It is true that opportunities for a crime can sometimes make it much more prevalent.”

Unfortunate coincidence: The chance to be bad knocks quite loudly at the self-checkout. According to research, the best environment for a customer to “forget” to scan something, like a steak, is a crowded area without any store employees present.

Cotte stated that “the situation can increase the likelihood of that last-minute decision.”

People steal to get back at retailers

The rabble-rousers, who have internalized a righteous narrative that shoplifting is not wrong but rather a way to retaliate against the price-gouging “Man,” coexist with the opportunists. This is not an absurd way of thinking. At a time when supermarkets are profitable, inflation is wreaking havoc on household budgets. Earnings for Loblaws’ fourth quarter increased by 11%, and parent company George Weston Ltd. Recently increased Galen Weston’s pay by $1.2 million.

The fictitious shopper Jane is currently making her way down aisle 6. In addition to being anxious about prices, she might be feeling a little irritated about those incidents.

“People steal,” according to Cotte, “to get even with merchants.”

Because it is a machine and people are much more likely to feel less guilt when technology is the victim of a crime, the self-checkout is the ideal accomplice. According to research, people would be much less likely to steal if stores installed self-automated checkouts that were embedded with videos of happy, smiling humans asking customers to “pay now.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that among thieves, there is a generational honor code. TikTok, a platform that is enormously popular among young people, allows users to post content that violates community guidelines. Instead of shoplifting from mom-and-pop shops, they will refer to them using sly euphemisms like “borrowing” and the less well-known slang term “racking.”. Even guides and advice on what to steal and how to avoid being caught are available.

However, supermarkets aren’t exactly fat ducks waiting to be conned by both the young and the old. Nobody would want to steal from Tom Doyle. He is a loss-prevention specialist or grocery store detective, and he is built like a human fire hydrant: bald, 5-foot-8, 250 pounds, and intimidating-looking.

Doyle is co-owner and vice-president of operations at Corporate Protection and Investigative Services, which performs a lot of work for major grocery stores. Doyle has been busting shoplifters for almost 40 years. In the line of duty, he has suffered stab wounds, bites, punches, and bottles thrown at his head.

He declared that “meat is the hottest item right now.”

He means by “hot” that shoplifters are attempting to take it. The majority of shoplifters Doyle runs into are professionals who steal to make a living rather than otherwise honorable, upstanding Canadians.

To catch a thief, each store detective uses a different technique. With a grocery item in hand, he prefers to walk the aisle while keeping an eye out for odd behavior. If he is working at a more upscale store, he dresses fancier to blend in with the other customers, and to avoid having his feet “stomped,” he never wears sandals or flip-flops. ”.

Doyle claimed that shoplifting is an art form and that a few weeks ago he witnessed a brand-new masterpiece. Separately, a man and woman entered a store, took carts, and walked the aisles stocking up on merchandise. They each carried a reusable shopping bag over their shoulder and had a stack of steaks tucked into a corner of the cart.

He remembers saying, “This is different.”.

The two casually added the meat to the bag while they were shopping, but when they went to pay at a checkout lane with a cashier present, their cards were declined. There was a big show of apology and promises that they would call their bank to fix the issue and return to pay. Doyle confronted them as they were leaving the store with the meat slung over their shoulder.

I feel no remorse

In the past, he would have dialed 911. However, these days, you have to wait hours for the police to arrive when you call for them.

He said, “You are last on their list.”

The majority of the time Doyle returns the stolen goods, takes a photo of the shoplifter with his smartphone, and informs them that he will call the police if he sees them again because spending six hours in the manager’s office with a shoplifter means six hours spent not keeping an eye on the floor.

When the punishment for a crime is no real punishment at all, it is a different kind of moral peril. According to Dalhousie’s Charlebois, both the righteous and the TikTok savvy are unaware that consumers ultimately pay for increased theft because supermarkets simply pass along whatever costs there are to them.

Bob has reduced his shoplifting recently, but not as a result of any attacks from an unexpectedly guilty conscience.

“I feel no remorse,” he said.

The risks of being caught, however, are now more heavily weighed by him because he has observed store employees paying increased attention at the self-checkout. Children tend to be moral absolutists: Stealing is wrong, and so it is, but life is a little more complicated for adults with mortgages and other mouths to feed besides their own. He believes he could talk his way out of a jam if necessary, but could he explain it to his kids?

I don’t steal things just for fun, Bob said. “I don’t steal beer, even though some days I feel like I need it; all I want is to be able to provide my kids with wholesome food”

Surely we all do.



I’ve accidentally been a part of the shoplifting world. Accidentally forgot to scan a flat of Pepsi that was on the lower part of the cart and I forgot was there. It was hidden by all the other items in the cart. By the time I realized it, we were already outside loading groceries into the car. I wasn’t about to go all the way back in to pay for it. Especially when the wind was blowing and it was -30’C out.

I’ve watched people just walk out the front door without even going near the checkouts. I never said anything because I knew how they felt. I have actually been tempted to do the exact same thing, but I just don’t have the nerve to do it.

If you saw people shoplifting groceries, would you report it? Have you purposely been involved in shoplifting at the grocery stores? What is your thought about people being desperate enough to be shoplifting at the grocery stores? Post your answers in the comments below for a discussion.

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