What do you think the most stolen food item is in the grocery store? I asked that question on Facebook, and most of my friends guessed items like baby formula, meat or checkout lane candy bars.
In the past two weeks, Wisconsin cheese bandits have stolen a total of $160,000 in cheese in two different robberies, according to AZ Family. Late last week, thieves made away with a trailer with $70,000 worth of a "processed cheese product" inside. The thieves hooked the trailer full of inspected cheese up to another vehicle and simply drove away. The trailer was later found empty. The cheese product was recovered over the weekend. It was sold to a local grocery store that put it on its shelves. A week before, $90,000 worth of Parmesan was stolen from a different Wisconsin location.
The fate of the Parmesan is unknown, but it's not unreasonable to expect it will be sold on the black market to restaurants. Last fall, $43,000 worth of Comte was stolen from a dairy in France, and the speculation from Eater was that it would end up in restaurants outside of the country. Shortly before the French heist, thieves stole a whopping $875,000 worth of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy.
It's not just the professional thieves who are stealing cheese by the ton; consumers are stealing cheese wedge by wedge. In reading about these recent cheese robberies, I came across a 2011 survey by Centre for Retail Research that answered the first question raised here: the most stolen item in grocery stores across the globe is cheese.
Cheese is an item that one criminologist describes as "craved" — Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable and Disposable, according to the Guardian. Unlike many items that would also fall under the craved description like razor blades or electronics, cheese is not fitted with any type of security tag. It's small and easy to stash in a coat, purse or stroller.
At over $40 a pound, some people find it tempting to put a wedge of luxury cheese like Comte in their pocket instead of the grocery cart. (Photo: Kit Logan/flickr)
It also can be very expensive. The Comte that was stolen in France would have retailed for $43 a pound in the United States. Most consumers would see that as a luxury item, and some consumers see it as a luxury item that fits neatly in the pocket. (And it won't sound off any alarms as you leave the store.)
While globally, cheese is the most stolen food in grocery stores, in North America, it comes in fourth after meat, candy and infant formula. Although many of my friends of Facebook think it might be something else: singular grapes. Many people will admit to eating one grape out of a package before buying it to make sure the grapes are tasty. Or maybe, just maybe, they needed to make sure the grapes would go well with the wedge of Comte they just stuffed in their jacket pocket.