- By Region
Criminal gangs are cashing in on the sharp rise in meat prices, contributing to an increase of as much as 20 per cent in the theft of meat from supermarkets, according to retail and security experts.
While farmers in north Yorkshire have complained that rising meat prices have caused an epidemic of sheep rustling from isolated fells, it seems that organised criminals are now cutting corners and stealing more meat from shop shelves.
Meat – which showed an annual inflation rate of 6.1 per cent in March, the second-highest of any supermarket item – may also be a target for austerity-hit families no longer able to afford a Sunday roast.
The price rise is compounded by the biggest squeeze on incomes in decades. After adjusting for inflation, household disposable incomes fell 1.2 per cent in 2011, the steepest since the 1970s.
And there are few signs that household purchasing power is likely to pick up soon. Wages growth in the quarter to March rose 1.4 per cent – less than half the rate at which prices are currently rising.
Supermarket representatives at last week’s annual Retail Fraud conference had expressed anxiety about the amount of meat being stolen, said Joshua Bamfield, director at the Centre for Retail Research.
“Retailers say that meat theft has really gone up. It’s something that is seen as having a lot of commercial value and can be sold on to restaurants and pubs,” Professor Bamfield told the Financial Times.
“There are people travelling about the country, coming in and running off with meat in quite a professional way. There are some gangs that are known to retailers and police,” he said.
Supermarkets told him they estimated theft had gone up by as much as 20 per cent in some stores but had risen about 10 per cent as a national average.
Neil Matthews, vice-president of the retail security consultancy Checkpoint Systems, which provides electronic tags to supermarkets, agreed that tighter budgets were a contributing factor to rising theft.
“Meat prices have shot up considerably, people are unemployed, and some are stealing professionally. This is just happening a lot more,” said Mr Matthews. “There’s definitely been a huge demand among retailers to do more about their meat losses, so we are working on a much wider range of projects with them.”
New security measures include tagging packets of meat worth more than about £5 and installing more CCTV cameras in chiller cabinet aisles. One big British supermarket chain, which asked not to be identified, said it was seeing problems with meat theft on a localised basis, particularly bacon, which it said was “easy to tuck into your pocket”.