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Sharif Hasan, Canadian Press

Published Saturday, December 17, 2022 at 9:24 AM EST

Shoplifting has reached alarming levels in Canada, industry insiders say, with inflation and labor shortages cited as key factors in the rise.

The hike has caused concern among Canadian grocers, even as rising food prices are helping their bottom lines. Food prices rose 11 percent year-over-year in October and are not expected to slow down anytime soon. The total cost of groceries for a family of four is expected to be $1,065 more than this year, according to the most recent edition of Canada’s 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 Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“There is a correlation between the two, absolutely. Theft is an ongoing problem. But the intensity actually increases when food prices go up,” he said, noting that meat and dairy products 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 both food prices going up and … the economy slowing down, then you basically see more commodities.”

Charlebois said inflation and grocery theft feed into each other, meaning when prices rise, shoplifting occurs and businesses have no choice but to raise prices further to compensate.

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

Walmart Canada corporate affairs manager Felicia Feffer says the retail giant has seen a historic increase in theft.

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

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

Pfeffer said the company takes measures to prevent and reduce theft to keep prices low and keep its employees and customers safe.

Metro and Loblaw both 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 a lot of concern among Canadian businesses about crime and crime in Canadian workplaces,” he said. “Shoplifting is definitely being felt more, especially as we come out of lockdown and restrictions.”

Kelly said some grocers are struggling to recruit new staff, and when businesses don’t have enough workers to conduct physical monitoring, they can find themselves in a vulnerable position.

“If you have less people at the front of the store, if you know if you have one person in the business at the cash register in the back,” he said, “it makes the business less of a target for robbery.

“Fewer people on the floor … makes shoplifters a little less afraid to come in and take something,” he said, adding that employees and customers feel more “intimidated and nervous” when entering stores.

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

As customers who shopped more online during the pandemic return to stores, Canada has seen an increase in retail crime, said Michelle Wasilichen, spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada.

He pointed to the economic downturn, the rise in the resale of stolen goods and the rise of organized crime as other factors behind the increase.

While it’s difficult to know the exact impact of theft on local businesses because most crimes go unreported, the council estimates that retail crime cost Canada $5 billion in 2019.

Vasilishen said the council does not collect data on whether there is a link between inflation and shoplifting, but “theft increases during economic downturns.”

“We also know that robberies, 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 can be effective store loss prevention strategies, Vasilishen said.

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


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