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Grocers beefing-up anti-theft measures amid high food prices

Canada's grocery stores are adding more anti-theft measures as food prices remain stubbornly high. From installing security gates to checking receipts, the shopping experience is changing for consumers.

These days, there is a stark reality that comes with buying groceries, something George Brown knows all too well.

"Prices are up," he says, while loading his car with groceries he purchased from Walmart in Ottawa's South Keys neighbourhood. "Let's face it, some of the prices are up 200 per cent from what they were a few years ago."

So it's no surprise for Brown to see beefed-up security at the big-box retailer that will, on occasion, randomly check receipts.

"I had my receipt out for it to be checked on the way out, so that's no problem. They didn't; but sometimes they do and I accept it."

In a statement to CTV News, Walmart said it is working to reduce theft as much as possible in order to keep consumer prices low.

"Walmart Canada uses a variety of measures to manage and prevent theft and to keep our associates and customers safe, which can include receipt-checking. We’re increasing our investment in these measures, including enhancing our asset protection technologies and procedures in-store," the retailer says.

"Because this is an industry-wide problem, Walmart Canada plays an active role in the Retail Council of Canada’s Loss Prevention Advisory Committee. For an industry perspective, Michelle Wasylyshen at Retail Council of Canada can provide some valuable insights on retail theft and the work of the advisory committee." 

Grocery chains have been taking a variety of steps to reduce theft, including the addition of security guards, locking the wheels on shopping carts and concealing security tags in the packaging of higher-priced meat and dairy products. Self-checkout machines, which have been installed in most grocery stores, likely play a role in theft as well.

Not long ago, Sylvain Charlebois, a food distribution and policy professor with Dalhousie University, entered a grocery store that went as far as posting pictures of believed-to-be-offenders on its wall for everyone to see.

"I was shocked to see that," says Charlebois. "It's actually not allowed to do that. If you don't have the consent of the person, you can't really use these pictures and publicly show them to everyone walking into your store.

At Loblaw retailers, some locations have recently installed barriers and gates that separate the entrance from the exit.

In a statement, Loblaws acknowledges there has been a 'substantial increase' in high-value theft from retail stores, but notes it is not a case of shoplifting.

"Let's be clear - this is organized crime, focused on products that are stolen to be re-sold through online marketplaces. For us, it includes large amounts of cosmetics, fragrances, and baby formula, even carts full of thousands of dollars of products being pushed right out the front door," the company says.

"We've had to make some changes in how our stores operate to stop this crime – adding locked cabinets, time-delay safes and security gates – while at the same time maintaining a welcoming and convenient customer experience."

Charlebois says there is a black market for stolen food and organized crime would know that.

"The thing about food inflation is that it does impact food services as well and restaurateurs will look for deals to make sure they have something to cook and serve to their own patrons and margins are very low," he said. "Most grocers want to make customers feel comfortable as they shop for food, but the reality is that food theft is a big problem."

However, Charlebois says more manageable grocery costs may be right around the corner.

"The rough part is behind us; food inflation is actually dropping in Canada and we are expecting things to calm down as we finish the year." Top Stories

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