Supermarket Easter 'tradition' triggers heated debate – so is it stealing?

Some say kids have been doing it for 'generations', but one expert says this 'Easter tradition' needs to be discouraged.

The Easter holiday brings with it many different customs, but have you ever noticed one so-called "tradition" that leaves broken and opened chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies lining the aisles at your local supermarket?

Consuming food while shopping without paying, known as supermarket grazing or sampling by some, is not unheard of – in fact, grapes are a commonly known food people "sample" while doing their groceries and, as one Aussie man claimed while walking through his local Woolworths, so are Easter chocolates.

"Every bloody Easter it's the same, kids have been doing that for generations," he says while showing the rows of cracked open eggs. "Every shopping centre you go to, every Coles and Woolies, everywhere that sells easter eggs is the same. It’s a tradition."

Chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies broken open with pieces missing in the supermarket.
People say kids have been 'sampling' Easter eggs in shops for years. Source: TikTok/Supplied

Aussies share their views on Easter 'tradition'

Soon after sharing the footage of the rows of sampled chocolate, many people responded with a large number admitting to witnessing it or doing it themselves.

"I won’t break an Easter egg but I’ll have a pick if it’s broken," one person admitted. "I saw a 5yo do this blatantly in front of me but behind his mum's back. Hahahaha. I loved it," a second said.

"With the prices of Easter eggs, might as well," a third reasoned.

When it comes to sampling foods in supermarkets without the intention of buying the items, "44% of consumers feel that this is a little bit justifiable to completely justifiable" according to Macquarie University consumer expert Jana Bowden, citing a 2023 report from Monash Business School.

She also noted young shoppers are "more accepting of theft" in general, particularly during the cost-of-living crisis.

This is no surprise, with shoplifting on the rise and more than one in 10 Aussies admitting to stealing in the past year due to financial strains, and some admitting they have no issue with stealing from the big supermarkets.

"If supermarkets weren't making fat profits while raising prices right now, they'd find it easier to stop people doing these things," Consumer expert Joel Gibson told Yahoo.

Is 'sampling' food without purchasing considered stealing?

The "tradition" of trying Easter chocolate might be common practice among some, but Bowden confirmed it is a "form of retail theft".

"Taking something without the intention of paying for it is the definition of stealing. It is not OK," she told Yahoo News Australia.

She also pointed to the National Retail Association, who state that a regulatory offence includes not only "shoplifting" but "consuming food or drink inside a store without paying".

Shoplifting costs retailers $9 billion a year

"Perhaps the spike we are seeing in Easter egg raiding down the supermarket aisle at present is just a bit of innocence — it could be as simple as a few eager children trying to get their hands on the Easter bunnies' tempting egg stash early," Bowden said.

However, she notes that to "stem retail theft" in the long run, "good ethical values" need to be embedded and it is "our responsibility as a society to educate future generations on right from wrong.

"It is also a form of consumer deviance that has a very negative effect on retailers. The Australian Retailers Association estimates shoplifting costs retailers more than $9 billion a year."

Images of Cadbury Easter bunnies broken open with chocolate missing in a supermarket.
Gibson says if you're ruining the product for others, it is likely stealing. Source: Supplied/TikTok

But tasting a grape may be OK, expert says

Gibson agrees that opening packaging or breaking a product inside its packaging "isn't sampling" and is stealing. "If you did that in a china shop the rule would be 'you break it, you own it'," he said.

But, he has noted that sampling a grape or similar is something entirely different. "I think tasting a grape or two is something supermarkets should accept and even encourage as it could lead to sales," Gibson reasoned, "A lot of bakeries and fruit and veg shops still have samples out for tasting and Woolies has free fruit for kids in its stores.

"The test should be: are you ruining the product for somebody else. If you are, it probably is stealing."

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