Olive oil has become the most frequently stolen product in Andalucía's supermarkets. Salvador Salas
Supermarkets in Malaga and along the Costa beef up security due to increase in shoplifting

Supermarkets in Malaga and along the Costa beef up security due to increase in shoplifting

Due to rising food prices and inflation, theft from shops in the province is also on the up with olive oil, luxury meat products, spirits and suntan lotions being the most popular products targeted by shoplifters

Matías Stuber


Tuesday, 4 June 2024, 15:26


First it's a quick sleight of hand to hide a pack of Iberian ham, then a bottle of extra virgin olive oil is slipped into a rucksack and the perpetrator ends up leaving without taking those items to the till. Every single day shoplifters are at it in Malaga province's supermarkets. Stealing is a fact of life that nobody wants, but it has existed for as long as people have been around. Supermarkets make some provision for theft when drawing up their budgets. The problem is that these thefts have been on the increase since inflation has squeezed all our pockets and forced supermarkets to tighten up on security to prevent further losses from products heading out the store without going through checkout.

SUR went on a tour of different supermarkets in Malaga city to take stock of the situation, talking with their managers. We found out that certain security measures previously considered exceptional, such as security guards or barriers to enter and exit the supermarket, have now become widespread. These measures are not new, but they only existed in specific supermarkets located in areas considered to be more prone to such thefts.

The range of products that now carry security tags has also expanded. While it was once common to see these devices on the more expensive bottles of alcohol and perfumes, they have now been extended to oil or seasonal goods such as sun protection products.

Across Spain shoplifters cost the supermarkets more than 2.2 billion euros every year. This is according to the Retail Theft Barometer of NIQ, a consultancy firm specialising in the retail trade.

The trend is upward, as the president of Maskom supermarkets, Sergio Cuberos, confirmed to SUR. "Thefts have clearly increased in recent times. In percentage terms, I could almost say that they have doubled. We don't like to increase security measures, we want our supermarkets to be comfortable, open spaces. But with the increase in shoplifting, we have been forced to implement new measures." He then lists what actions he has taken: the presence of security guards and the installation of barriers at the entrance and exit to his supermarkets. These can prevent a shoplifter from leaving with an entire trolley load.

A geography lesson in shoplifting

Tell me what you steal and I will tell you where you are from. A statement that is made possible thanks to a study carried out by STC Neda, which establishes a ranking of the top products stolen in each region of Spain. In the case of Andalucía, the top five most stolen products are olive oil, Iberian meat products, alcoholic drinks, shaving products and the large tins of tuna.

Cuberos confirmed that olive oil's move up to first place is only recent. The explosion in the price of a product considered a basic commodity by a large part of the population has also caused bottles and carafes of oil to be security-tagged as the price per litre now hovers around the ten-euro mark.

When we asked representatives from the retail distribution sector in Malaga about the items that seem to vanish most often, they highlighted sliced, packaged products, especially cured meats such as Iberian ham, perfumes and alcoholic beverages. What they all have in common is that they can be hidden quite easily, more so in the winter months when they can be slipped into coats.

The president of Costasol de Hipermercados, Aurelio Martín, is in charge of several Carrefour stores in the province. "The issue of shoplifting has increased quite a lot. There are products that we have had to tag with alarms because they fly, such as suntan lotions", he stated. Asked about the presence of security guards, he assured us that they have become indispensable. "Either you have a security guard or you have your own staff keeping an eye on what is going on inside your supermarket."

Organised gangs

So what is the profile of the typical thief who goes wild in the aisles of a supermarket? According to the STC Neda study, it is someone who is a "recidivist" (habitual criminal) who seeks to resell the stolen goods. "The thieves are organised in gangs, these are not thefts committed out of necessity", said Cuberos, also pointing out that these gangs try fencing the stolen goods to bars and restaurants in the province.

Under the current law in Spain, the stealing of items under a total value of 400 euros is considered petty theft. The Association of Manufacturers and Distributors (Aecoc) is calling for the elimination of this minimum amount of 400 euros so that repeat offenders involved in petty theft can be more harshly penalised. Aecoc argues that "90% of those thefts that occur are valued at under 90 euros" and yet this type of crime has increased by 12% in the first quarter of this year.

The trend, according to Aecoc, is on the rise. The association understands that placing the bar at 400 euros before the justice system can raise the penalty for repeat shoplifting just allows for multiple criminal acts of lesser amounts, "which is a serious problem for trade."

Aecoc believes that, in order to meet the objective of reducing the incidence of shoplifting, the law should place a greater priority on setting a better punishment for repeat offenders, "regardless of the economic value of the thefts committed."

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