Foodstuffs boss says crime hitting supermarkets is 'not acceptable' amid spike in thefts

Foodstuffs' boss says the spike in retail crime, which has seen brazen offenders assaulting staff members, is "not acceptable" and is calling for change.

Data collected from New World, PAK'nSAVE and Four Square stores, released on Wednesday, found a 38.2 percent increase in retail crime between February and April this year - an average of 37 crimes a day.

Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin said store owners have "never seen retail crime at these levels".

"It's an extremely concerning trend and it's unacceptable."

He said in one case, a repeat offender stole 31 whole eye, scotch and sirloin fillets over several weeks - costing the supermarket almost $3200.

Footage of some of the burglaries shows threats, intimidation and abusive behaviour towards customers and staff.

One crime shows a member of the public punching a staff member in the head. Footage of a second crime shows a man walking into a supermarket with a metal pipe before threatening a staff member with it.

Foodstuffs boss says crime hitting supermarkets is 'not acceptable' amid spike in thefts
Photo credit: Supplied

Supermarket staff members have had enough, with the data produced highlighting the widespread problems facing grocery stores, Quin said. 

He told AM on Wednesday he hopes the data will help produce a change to keep customers and staff safe. 

"I think it's really important we have a fact-based conversation, that this is pretty real," Quin told co-host Ryan Bridge. "I spent the last eight weeks on the road visiting all of our regions in the North Island and you hear the stories and talk to some of the staff on the front line, and it's just not acceptable what's going on out there."

Quin said he "feels a duty" to protect customers and staff, and is keen to talk to anyone who can help.

He feels they're doing "everything they can" to keep people safe but questions have been raised about why more isn't being spent on security. 

"No one's hesitating to spend the money or put in the investment in physical security. So gates, grates, locks, all those sorts of things and also on personal security in terms of, we've got more security people in stores than ever before," he said.

"But still, some of the brazenness and some of the drivers for this sort of crime is really hard to work on. We don't have all of the answers, we're not experts in the cause and we're not experts in the facts… and we have to be involved in a conversation right across New Zealand to go, this is not acceptable, what can we do about it?"

Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin.
Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin. Photo credit: AM

A cost of living crisis is hitting New Zealanders hard, with grocery prices and inflation all spiking over the last 12 months. 

Food prices were 12.5 percent higher in April this year compared to 2022. The surging costs reflected higher prices for fruit and vegetables, eggs and potato chips, Stats NZ said.

This increase was the largest since September 1987, which included the introduction of GST in 1986.

Fruit and vegetable prices surged 22.5 percent year-on-year and grocery prices were up 14 percent. 

But despite this, Quin said this has nothing to do with the rapid spike in crime and there are three factors driving retail crime at supermarkets. 

"The first is organised activity, so it's organised crime activity, stealing to order, stealing to revenue or an ability to dispose of the product," he told AM.

"The second level, sadly and unfortunately, is it's feeding an addiction, habit, drugs or alcohol. Lastly, it's a social media-driven activity where people are trying to make themselves heroes on social media by doing things that probably cause a lot more damage than they actually steal in stock, but the effect on our teams and on our stores and on communities is just the same."

'Dangerous side of Jacinda's kindness' - ACT

The ACT Party was quick to hit out at the Government following the release of the Foodstuffs data.

Leader David Seymour believes the spike in crime at supermarkets is because of the Government's plan to reduce the prison population.

Increasing crime has been a thorn in the Government's side of late and this is no different, with Seymour lashing out at the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

"The fact a supermarket chain is having to put these figures out shows how bad things have got. I would say it's the dangerous side of Jacinda's kindness but also Chris Hipkins's incompetence," Seymour told AM Early host Nicky Styris.

"This Government came in promising to let 30 percent of prisoners out. They've reduced the prison population by more than that and when you let criminals out of jail, guess what? You get more crime."

Since Labour came into Government in 2017, the prison population peaked in 2018 at just less than 11,000 and it has currently dropped by about 2300, according to the Department of Corrections.

National seems to agree with Seymour, saying the Government is being "soft on crime" and too focused on reducing the prison population.

 "This is a Government that is incredibly soft on crime. It has one target only, which is a 30 percent reduction in the prison population, violent crime, retail crime, gang membership, ram raids are all up," National Party leader Christopher Luxon said.

"You saw those numbers today from Foodstuffs, I thought they did a very good job of articulating the challenges they're dealing with as retailers. I know there are others in the country wrestling with the same challenges.

"But there is no reason why employees, could be our brother, our sister, our kids, our parents working in those stores should feel unsafe in the way that they do."

Watch the full interview with Chris Quin in the video above.