Stealing to promote, to not eat: Pilfered meats, cheeses being resold, Winnipeg grocery retailer homeowners say

Theft is on the rise in Winnipeg and grocery store owners are feeling the losses.

Munther Zeid, owner and manager of Winnipeg’s Food Fare chain, says he thought he had shoplifting under control. But two years ago it started amping up again. 

“It’s a very serious issue and it is higher than usual. It’s something we’re watching for every day,” said Zeid.

He says he’s seeing up to five theft attempts a day — and those are just by the people he’s catching.

The increase in theft isn’t the only change he’s noticed in his store this year. There are also new trends when it comes to what people are taking off his shelves.

Tide Pods are a big-ticket item — same with razor blades and certain beauty products. That’s because they have a high resale value on the street.

Zeid says he and other grocers in the city are seeing shoplifting shift into what he calls organized crime.

“There are groups out there that are hired by people to come into stores. They’re given a list of what’s the hot deal of the day,” he said.

Meats, cheeses most commonly stolen

While household products are often stolen, the most common items being taken from these stores are meats and cheeses, Zeid said, but he doesn’t think the thieves are taking the items to feed themselves.

“People don’t steal when they’re hungry, they really don’t,” says Zeid.

“If someone is hungry and they only have five bucks, they’ll come to you and say, ‘What can I get for this?’ They don’t steal because they’re hungry. They steal because they want money.”

Packaged meats and cheeses are commonly taken from grocery stores because they have a high resale value. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Winnipeg police agree with Zeid when he says the food is being stolen for resale.

“A lot of these thefts are for resale, not for consumption,” said Const. Jay Murray, a public information officer with the Winnipeg Police Service. 

“Winnipeg is a city where we have a lot of generous shelters. It’s pretty hard to go hungry here. It does happen but we are able to provide food to individuals.” 

The WPS doesn’t have any exact stats on how much shoplifting is increasing but says it is seeing theft rise substantially throughout the city.

The service’s 2017 report shows theft under $5,000 was up 22 per cent over the last five years and robbery up 29 per cent in the same time frame. Shoplifting is included in those categories and not calculated separately. 

‘It’s almost routine here’

But Zeid’s feeling that shoplifting is increasing is shared by his fellow grocers.

Scott Clement, owner of two Family Foods stores in the city, says theft is always on his mind.

“It’s almost routine here,” says Clement. “We are always watching customers because of it.”

Clement says he’s aware of the resale aspect to the thefts. He pointed to online buy-and-sell sites like Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji. He says he sees his meats sold on those pages pretty regularly.

The stolen goods are sold in person too. Zeid says he’s caught people selling his meats in the past.

“I’ve had people call me because someone was selling my meat in some club parking lot,” says Zeid. “In that case, I go down there and sure enough, there’s my packages being sold.”

Dealing with shoplifting

For local and family grocers like Zeid and Clement, shoplifting can have a big impact on the bottom line.

According to the Retail Council of Canada, shoplifting accounts for a two per cent annual loss in retail across the country. That adds up to about $5 billion a year.

John Graham, director of government relations for the council, says retailers build that two per cent into their operating budgets.

Grocery items being stolen and resold

Theft is on the rise in Winnipeg and grocery store owners are feeling the losses.

“Think about it like rent or cost of supplies. It’s something they take into account when planning for regular operations,” says Graham.

But beyond cost, these store owners are worried about safety.

They say theft in the city is becoming more brazen and, in some cases, more violent.

For an independent grocer, the worry is about customers and employees.

Both Zeid and Clement say they will make every attempt to stop someone who’s trying to steal but if the situation seems at all violent, it’s not worth the risk to others.

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