'Violent' shoplifters 'filling up bags' at supermarkets as prices rise

Soaring food prices have caused a rise in shoplifting in recent months with one state in particular seeing a drastic jump in offences.

Not only is it costing some businesses thousands of dollars a year, but staff are growing increasingly scared for their safety as thieves are "becoming more brazen" and "violent", according to one supermarket worker.

Sandra Boland, a manager at IGA in Launceston, Tasmania, told the ABC that she's never seen the rate of shoplifting as high as what it is now.

But despite installing 30 surveillance cameras at her Newnham store to help deter shoplifters, "there's not enough that scares them or stops them", she says.

Sandra Bowland store manager at Newnham IGA in Tasmania.
Sandra Bowland store manager at Newnham IGA in Tasmania says she's never seen more shoplifting than now. Source: ABC/Damian McInytre

According to the ABC, there's been a 30 per cent increase in supermarket shoplifting in Tasmania.

In 2020-21, there were 435 stealing offences recorded, they reported, but that figure jumped to 562 the next year.

"They're quite obvious about it. They'll just bring a big bag and just fill it and think that you can't do anything to stop them," Ms Bolan said.

"When you do try, they fight back. They're very very violent so, to me, it's about keeping the staff safe."

'Rising cost of living' one reason for theft

Ms Bolan detailed a recent incident at her Newnham store, which happened last week.

She claimed "a young child" about 16 years old tried to take $153 worth of meat in a sports bag.

But when staff told him to "put it back", they were allegedly attacked.

Tasmania Police Inspector Nathan Johnston reportedly said that rising cost of living and homelessness were contributing factors.

"For people within that [homeless] community, it is harder for them to live and survive and, unfortunately, committing crime to survive is part of their way," he said.

Coles and Woolworths supermarket
1 in 5 Aussies admitted to stealing supermarket staples in the past 12 months. Source: Getty

Nationwide issue: 'Doing it tough'

It's not just Tasmania where theft is on the rise, but Australia as a whole.

According to Finder, the average Australian spends $526.86 a month on groceries with certain items — including some fruits and vegetables — spiking considerably in the past year.

The comparison website reported that almost 1 in 5 (19%) Australians – equivalent to 3.8 million people – admitted to stealing staple items in the past 12 months.

Richard Whitten, money expert at Finder, said some Australians are struggling to afford basic necessities, with theft being their only option.

"A lot of people are doing it tough as the cost of essentials like petrol, rent and energy have risen sharply," he said.

"The result is a growing subset of Australians who are stealing consumables to survive."

'Theft is opportunistic,' police say

Tasmania is a "very safe place to live", according to police who say there's a "small number of people who engage in antisocial and unlawful behaviour such as shoplifting".

"Often people who steal from businesses are opportunistic and will steal whenever there is an easy opportunity to do so," Acting Inspector Aleena Crack told Yahoo News Australia.

"Theft is opportunistic and often small measures like staff visibility, strategic stock placement, CCTV and other internal security arrangements within stores can be enough to deter shoplifters."

Inspector Crack said police are committed to preventing crime, and regularly collaborate with business owners to implement strategies to reduce the incidence of shoplifting.

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