The cheese and meat aisles are popular stops for thieves in grocery stores around the world, according to a recent report by the U.K.-based Center for Retail Research.
Cheese is the most stolen food globally, followed by meat.
The 2011 study traces retail theft in 43 countries across more than 250,000 stores and reports that retailers have absorbed millions of dollars of losses in food products. The profit loss is attributed mainly to theft by employees, organized crime rings and petty criminals.
"Organized crime rings target specialty items and products that are easy to sell in other venues," said Farrokh Abadi, president of shrink management solutions at Checkpoint Systems Inc., a Philadelphia-based retail security firm that funded the study.
Shrinkage is the accounting term for the loss of product.
Organized crime rings that nab cheese often take the stolen goods to smaller markets to sell for a profit. But perishable items such as meat and cheese are more frequently stolen by dishonest employees and small-time crooks than by organized criminals, Abadi said.
Crime rings might be more interested in high-demand, nonperishable items such as baby formula. Infant formula sells for a high price and is sometimes distributed in illegal drug dealings because it can be used to dilute narcotics.
Food theft varies by region. Cheese is a hot commodity in Europe, while candies and infant formula are stolen at higher rates in the United States.
Abadi attributed the disparity to differing cultural tastes. "In areas in Europe, you will see that cheese is higher on the list, because, as you know, Europeans love their cheese," he said.
But struggling economies, coupled with rising food prices across the board, are probably the causal causes of the increase in retail theft, Abadi said.
"Food prices have gone up in all the regions," he said. "So that combined with economic hardships unfortunately does not make the increase in shrink in these items surprising."