Shoplifters add meat to their loot

Expensive cuts of meat such as steak are now being tagged.
Expensive cuts of meat such as steak are now being tagged.

First it was clothes, then electronic goods and baby formula. Now it is meat.

Retailers waging a battle against grocery store shoplifting are adopting unorthodox crime prevention measures by placing electronic security tags on expensive cuts of meat.

The food tags work in the same way as on items such as clothes. Exit the shop without paying for the chunk of steak and an alarm goes off.

Sowetan observed a packer gingerly placing the strange tags on meat this week at one retail chain store west of Johannesburg.

The drastic measure is apparently a direct response to a rise in shoplifting of unconventional goods like meat in tough economic times.

In the past, tagging was reserved for goods like CDs.

Last week Sowetan reported that a Kliptown policewoman was caught shoplifting meat worth R620 at a Pick n Pay store in Lenasia. She has been released on R500 bail.

Now security at major supermarkets has been stepped up ahead of Christmas.

"We put tags on the meat because it gets stolen a lot lately," said an employee of a Pick n Pay store. "But the thieves have gotten smarter so we have to find other ways of protecting the meat."

She said the packed fridges which store prime and bulk meats are highly targeted.

"Just [last week] we caught a lady with prime steak but luckily the scanners beeped as she was exiting.

"People are getting smarter. We also find tags on the floor, because the thieves remove them. They have noticed that we tag the meat," she said.

Sowetan inspected high-end meat products and found tags disguised under the different branded labels.

The meat cuts included prime steak fillets, lamb roast and bulk meat, priced from R80 to R450 a package.

At Maponya Mall Pick n Pay supermarket an employee said stolen items included cheese and Kiwi shoe polish.

"The polish is used for car washes. There's a lot of car washes around in Soweto," he said.

He also said they had to keep baby formula at the pharmacy because it was a big target .

At Noordgesig Shoprite, shoplifting of some items was such a problem that baby formula and Nivea products are no longer on sale.

"People place expensive products into the boxes of cheaper ones and they end up paying R16 for a product that costs R36 because cashiers cannot check boxes.

"We have increased camera surveillance around those areas, because we do not have fancy security like the tagging machines," an employee said

Stelio Ioannou has owned a Spar store in Weltevreden Park for over 10 years.

Ioannou said they recently caught an elderly man stealing meat.

"He stole three packets of cold meat and put them in his private parts. We saw him with our CCTV camera.

"These items are expensive and not everyone can afford them. That is why people steal," said Ioannou.

Another Spar manager, Serge Mbiana, said the products most targeted were beef and chicken.

"We cannot afford to put fancy items to scan the meat but we keep security guards," he said.

"We have two dedicated security guards at the toiletry and medicine isle. Panado, Grandpa are stolen a lot."

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