Supermarkets bolster security, blame spike in meat thefts on 'organised crime' - not people struggling with cost-of-living

Supermarkets say they're having to bolster security measures and give staff extra training to deal with high quantities of meat being stolen.   

They believe the bulk of the thefts are not random opportunities but organised stealing to sell on the black market.   

One shopper recently tried to make off with nine legs of lamb concealed in their bags. When a staff member intervened, the thief brandished a screwdriver.    

Dealing with violence and aggression is common for supermarket workers. But head of safety and wellbeing for Foodstuffs North Island Jo van den Berg said they won't tolerate it.   

"Biting, scratching, punching, verbal abuse, we just won't tolerate that behaviour in our stores."   

Van den Berg said the most common item being stolen is meat.   

"It's our number one targeted item by double any other item that's stolen."    

But the real question is, are meat thefts up or are shops better at reporting them?    

Crime detection software company Auror had just over 10,000 incidents reported to them in 2020- 2021. This jumped to over 11,000 in 2021-2022 and this year thefts reported have already almost reached 14,000.    

Auror chief executive Phil Thomson said people need to be careful with where they're getting their meat - because there is every chance it's been nicked.    

"We should be very careful about where we're buying products like meat from, because you don't know if it's left the store down someone's pants, for instance."    

The supermarkets say the cuts of meat being targeted the most are the expensive ones like scotch fillets. While mince is not as popular a target.    

Consistent theft of high-value items shows it isn't just desperate people trying to feed their families, the supermarkets say.  

"[It's] either on selling or organised crime. We are not seeing mince being taken off our shelves to make a lasagne, we are seeing premium cut meat being stolen and believe that's for order," van den Berg said.    

Police said there were instances of meat being stolen by the trolley load about a year ago with some being exported to the Pacific islands. But police said they're now seeing "fewer instances of thefts of large quantities of meat" because of "retailers improving their security measures in response to the ever-evolving crime environment".     

Though Auror said meat theft is trending up globally   

"Retail crime has been on the rise right across the world, but what we're seeing in New Zealand is also holding true in those other countries, it is those repeat people, and they are targeting high-value goods and then selling them off into online marketplaces to other stores," Thomson said.