New Brunswick

Vodka most often targeted in N.B. liquor store thefts

NB Liquor lost more than $16,000 to liquor theft between November 2016 and the end of January 2019, according to a CBC News data analysis. Most often, the thieves were after bottles of vodka.

Vodka is the most common bottle taken from NB Liquor, according to a CBC News data analysis

When it comes to theft at NB Liquor, vodka is king. Vodka was targeted more than any other kind of alcohol during the period examined by CBC News. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

In Jamie Agnew's 26 years working at NB Liquor, he's seen some brazen thieves.

The president of CUPE Local 963, which represents NB Liquor employees, often sees people who are professional about stealing liquor. They can get in and out of the store "within seconds." 

"They'll come in with book bags and they'll maybe work in teams," Agnew said.

In most cases, those thieves are targeting vodka. A CBC News data analysis of thefts between November 2016 and the end of January 2019 has found that vodka is by far the most commonly swiped type of alcohol inside NB Liquor's corporate stores.

NB Liquor spokesperson Tom Tremblay says the corporation has been taking measures to try to deter theft. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Brand doesn't matter when it's a five-finger discount. Vodka bottles of all brands and sizes were removed from shelves.

NB Liquor can't explain why thieves take vodka before other types of liquor.

"Perhaps it's just a beverage that people like to consume," NB Liquor spokesperson Tom Tremblay said. "But we have no evidence to say why." 

In the past, NB Liquor saw people targeting high-end bottles of whisky. But less of that happened in the nearly three-year period.

A theft in Salisbury this past January is an exception. Someone stole four 750 ml bottles of Macallan 1824, for a total loss of $800.

Thieves most active on Wednesdays

Staff at NB Liquor do inventory at the end of each day and track their sales through a point of sale system. That's how the public liquor corporation is able to say exactly how much alcohol is going missing.

The data shows the corporation saw more than $18,000 worth of alcohol disappear between November 2016 and the end of January 2019, with 231 theft incidents.

NB Liquor lost more than $16,000 to theft in just over two years. Vodka was the most commonly stolen alcohol. 1:19

The figures only capture thefts at NB Liquor's corporate stores and don't include liquor that goes missing from agency stores or grocery stores. 

In total, 440 bottles or cans were taken, with thefts most commonly occurring on Wednesdays.

"Maybe it's a case of the mid-week blues and someone just has to come into our store," Tremblay said.

"Obviously, the Fridays and the holidays are high-traffic times. But Wednesday, I don't have an explanation for that one."

Very little of the stolen alcohol — less than $2,000 worth — was ever recovered, leaving the corporation with a loss of more than $16,000 because of theft during the time period.

Part of the reason why the corporation recovers very little of its stolen booze is because, for safety reasons, staff aren't allowed to chase thieves out of the store. The best they can do is collect as much information as possible and contact police.

"Once the product actually leaves our store, it's very hard to trace back," Tremblay said.

"There's various things the thief can do with the product. He can consume it very quickly or resell it on the black market."

NB Liquor lost more than $16,000 to theft between November 2016 to the end of January 2019, according to a CBC News data analysis. (Charlie Brockman/CBC)

The numbers pale in comparison to other provinces, like Ontario. CBC News has reported that liquor stores in that province lost $77 million to theft in 2018 and have seen a rise in brazen thefts.

NB Liquor has been taking measures to try to reduce thefts, though Tremblay said he couldn't reveal technical details. But he believes the measures are working.

"Certain things just like keeping our stores tidy," he said.

"Our staff builds relationships with customers that leads them to be able to catch suspicious or shifty behaviours. Our cash lanes are near the exits. These small little details go a long way in reducing theft in our stores."

Problems on Vaughan Harvey Blvd.

The problem is worse at some stores than at others.

Several NB Liquor stores recorded zero thefts during the nearly three-year period examined by CBC News.

But some stores recorded spates of apparently similar thefts, with people stealing the same items several times in a short period.

At Saint John's Wellington Row store, thieves struck on eight different occasions in January 2018 alone. Bottles of vodka were taken every time.

"Especially if they're not caught, they're going to come back," Agnew said.

"That's what we always say."

The story is similar at the Vaughan Harvey Boulevard store in Moncton. According to Agnew, NB Liquor has hired a security guard to patrol that store.

A taste for Dom Pérignon

The most expensive bottle taken was a 1.15 litre, $600 bottle of Dom Pérignon, stolen from the Vaughan Harvey Boulevard store on Jan. 30, 2019.

In a separate theft at the same store on the same day, someone took a bottle of Macallan 1824, valued at $200. Neither bottle was recovered.

CUPE Local 963 president Jamie Agnew has been working at a liquor store for 26 years. He's seen some brazen thieves who are almost professional. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Vaughan Harvey Boulevard is also the only store where thieves took something other than alcohol. Two Alpine T-shirts were taken in January 2017 but were also recovered.

In comparison, Cannabis NB hasn't had a single theft from a member of the public since its stores opened last fall. 

"That's because all of our product is behind shelves or in glass containers, kind of like a pharmaceutical, which makes it next to impossible to steal product from there," Tremblay said.

But that doesn't make Cannabis NB immune to internal thefts. 

The most common day for thefts was Wednesday, followed by Friday. (Charlie Brockman/CBC)

An employee in Richibucto was caught consuming two products, valued at $53.50 and $39.99, that she put into an aroma pod, according to records.

Another incident happened when an employee in Edmundston removed a $44.99 oil from the store. The employee  returned the oil the next day, saying they forgot to pay for it. 

In both cases, the employees are no longer with Cannabis NB.

Even though Cannabis NB's design seems to foil would-be thieves, Tremblay doesn't anticipate NB Liquor changing its design to deter thieves anytime soon.

"We want people to be able to come into our stores, read the labels, touch the product, be able to really interact with the staff and product," he said.

"For the foreseeable future, we won't be transitioning that way."

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

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