Stealing Food Is A Big Problem

The Lempert Report
August 04, 2023

What we also find as a major problem, as I've been talking to different CEO's and different retailers over the past few weeks, is that theft is getting worse and worse by the day as it relates to supermarkets. When I was in New York, what Hagen Das has started to do is they are now shipping their pints of ice cream with plastic devices on top that if somebody steals a pint of ice cream, an alarm goes off, similar to what you know you used to see on expensive bottles of alcohol or wine. Each one of those devices costs about $3.30, so that plastic device costs more than the whole ice cream manufacturing in it, and and I just think that we're really, you know, in a bad way. You know Amazon is rolling out their payment for palm. You know San Francisco stores have to lock up. They're frozen food because of shoplifting, their closing stores left and right throughout the entire country. Safeway had one worker quit because he was having the added stress of unlocking items and carrying them to the checkout for customers. Rite Aid has closed stores. There was a woman who wanted to buy Tide pods and she had to wait 10 minutes for somebody to unlock a case so she could get her Tide pods. Here in Venice, California, there was a crime a couple weeks ago, biggest wine theft ever, where there was a group of people who went on the top of the store, cut a hole in the ceiling of it and stole $600,000 worth of wine. We are really at wits end here on how we're gonna deal with theft, and I think that what's gonna happen, in my opinion, is we're gonna need new technology in order to stop this theft, because I don't think people are gonna stop stealing. 

Sally: Yes. Well, we have to think about the reason they're stealing and we've been talking about throughout this episode, the high price of food and how people are food secure insecure more than ever in America, and so I have to imagine that this is why there is so much theft going on, along with the fact that we are now checking out our own groceries and not having to go through a line and work with a store clerk to bring up all of our groceries. But it is becoming very frustrating for the people that work in these stores having to go and unlock cases and be on walkie-talkies communicating. I need you over here to open up the Tide pods or the ice cream. It could be very frustrating. And also, I think, some of these workers, particularly the young ones, putting them in a position where they are security, where they're playing security to catch shoplifters is not a position that these workers should be in, especially with what they're being paid. 

Phil: Absolutely, and what I really think is gonna happen is something that Tesco had tried in Korea a number of years ago in a subway station. Basically, they put images of different products when people were waiting for their subway trains and what you would do is you would order from your phone and then by the time you got off the train and home, it would be delivered. So I think what we're gonna see is I think we're gonna see, instead of these locked cabinets which still is very labor intensive for all the reasons you described, as well as still having to unpack the boxes I think we're gonna go into a supermarket and it's just gonna be pictures of food and we're just gonna take our phone, take pictures of what we want, and then what's gonna happen is, as we're going through the store, the back room again has that micro fulfillment center. It's putting together our package. It is a sealed package and I've checked out on my phone, I've paid on my phone and that container is just gonna be sitting waiting for me and it's probably gonna reduce the store enormously. I don't have to have 10 pints of vanilla ice cream there, I can just have one pint. So the store size is gonna shrink. I can have less employees in the store, and I think that's gonna be our only solution, because I don't think we've come up with an idea on how to secure this theft problem. I think that the crooks are gonna continue to get smarter. Supermarkets are now hiring armed guards. That doesn't help. That doesn't eliminate the problem. It can exacerbate the problem. So I really think that we need a whole new way of thinking from a technology standpoint and it's not self scan, to your point, because I was talking to one CEO of one Midwestern chain who said since the pandemic, and they don't have cashiers, their theft at self scan is now about five times what it was pre-pandemic. 

Sally: Yes, well, personally, I think a lot of shoppers would appreciate what you're talking about being able to walk through a store and just snap photos and to fill up your cart, for someone to fill that up for you and then you to go pick it up and pay for it. That sounds like an amazing service. Because I gotta tell you, Phil, self checkout is very frustrating for me and goes very slow, and I still have to stand in line to get in the self checkout. 

Phil: Well, hopefully we can come up with a big solve for this problem.