Cheap, stolen meat gobbled up by bargain hunters

Thieves looking to make a quick buck are stealing meat from grocery stores and reselling it on the street, say the RCMP.

'It would probably be frightening to know exactly how much just walks out the door,' says N.S. market owner

Thieves are targeting meat in grocery stores but not because they're hungry. They're looking to resell the stolen food. (Jim Cole/Canadian Press)

Some Nova Scotians are turning to the street to get their meat — protein that's been lifted from local grocery store shelves and resold to people hungry for a bargain. 

Stores across the province are hit every week by meat thieves, said Cpl. Dal Hutchinson with the Halifax RCMP. A grocery store's beef, fish, pork and poultry are all targets.

"Most cases, it has to do with people trying to turn over a quick dollar and sell that product as quickly as possible to make money for other habits," said Hutchinson.  

Most of the meat is still in its original store packaging when it's resold, which leads Hutchinson to believe most customers suspect they're buying beef that's been burgled.

RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson says repeated thefts will eventually drive up prices for consumers as stores try to recoup their losses. (Submitted by Dal Hutchinson)

Street meat an easy sell

"It's easy to sell," said Hutchinson. "With the increased costs associated with feeding a family comes the potential for people to resort to purchasing such items as a T-bone steak that's been reduced for cost to them from someone who has stolen it."        

Ultimately the cost of the thefts will be passed onto consumers, as grocery stores raise prices to cover their losses, said Hutchinson.    

Thefts add to the cost of doing business and decrease a store's profitability, according to Laurie Jennings, owner of the Masstown Market grocery store near Debert. 

"It would probably be frightening to know exactly how much just walks out the door," he said.  

"I recall once there being a display of frozen shrimp or something and it was all gone that night and we thought, 'Wow, that's amazing!' But we went and looked at the sales and no, we didn't sell that many of them, so they went somewhere."

If meat sold on the street is still in its original packaging, it's possible it was stolen from a grocery store. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

'It's easy to slip ... packages in your coat'

It's difficult to track exactly what's being stolen, said Jennings, because meat theft isn't something his staff measures every day. 

"It's easy to slip two or three or five packages in your coat, especially this time of year with heavy winter coats on," said Jennings.  

Laurie Jennings is the owner of Masstown Market. He says meat has a high value and is sold in relatively small packages, making it an ideal target for thieves. (Submitted by Laurie Jennings)

He didn't have an estimate on how much money meat theft could be costing his business, but Jennings is considering adding more security to keep watch over his inventory.

Many grocery stores already have uniformed and plainclothes security staff. At trade shows, some companies are even pushing grocery stores to put radio frequency identification devices into meat packaging.  

"You'll see a label sometimes on a meat package saying inside there is this tag. The notion is if you walk out through the door without that tag being deactivated, the alarm goes off," said Jennings. 

CBC News reached out to major grocery store chains Sobeys and Loblaws, but calls were not returned.  

Polite offence may be best defence 

One of the best defences against theft is good customer service, said Sean Sportun, manager of security for Mac's Convenience Stores/Circle K in central Canada.

He said workers can spot suspicious activity and form a good relationship with customers, making them less likely to steal.         

Meanwhile, Hutchinson said people should think twice before buying stolen meat.

Not only is it illegal, but he said there's no way for buyers to know if that purloined sirloin is still safe to eat or if it's gone bad since leaving the grocery store.