Local cheese shops beef up security to put the squeeze on thieves

Cheese is the biggest item being stolen from supermarkets.
ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR

Cheese theft has become a growing problem in the retail world, and Mississauga shops, are cracking down to keep thieves from sneaking by without paying for expensive gourmet dairy goods.

“The cheeses are expensive now so that’s probably why they [steal],” deli owner Tony Sabbah told YourMississaugaBiz.com.

The long-term owner of Alliston’s Meat and Deli on Bloor St in eastern Mississauga said he’s been keeping his cheese inventory behind the counter where access is restricted to employees to deter people from stealing.

It’s not the everyday Kraft variety of processed cheese customers are pilfering from food stores these days. Theft is becoming more attractive when big blocks of parmesan cost $100 at some shops and feta, goat and gouda cheese prices are close to breaking the bank.

Cheese is the most stolen food in the world – and a lot of that is linked to high prices.

Many blame Canada’s supply management system that keeps milk prices high, feeding into the rising costs of other dairy products. But with a weak economy, many Canadians are finding it harder to make ends meet so stealing cheese for resale to restaurants or other stores is a lucrative option.

Sabbah said the demographic of Alliston’s clientele is likely one of the reasons his 1,500 square foot store doesn’t experience a lot of theft. “I don’t think they’d ruin their name just for a piece of cheese,” he said.

But even with alert staff and an older clientele, Sabbah did manage to catch someone on camera a year and a half ago. “I brought him in and showed him putting the cheese in his pocket,” he said. “[The thief] paid and walked out.”

These kinds of moments can be rare. Sabbah has owned Alliston’s for almost 30 years and said this was the only time when he was able to catch someone. “I’m sure somebody else did it and I didn’t catch them,” he said. “If I were to catch everybody I’d have be sitting there watching every customer who walks in and out.”

Most of the cheeses at Alliston’s are considered “high-end,” pricey international imports and specialties not commonly found in your average grocery store.

Sabbah estimates the average price for cheese at Alliston’s is $20 per kilogram, with prices 40 to 60 percent higher than in the United States. “The Canadian government is killing people with the protection on milk and every year they keep raising it by 4 per cent,” he said. “It’s terrible.”

For Maria Melo, a big, bulky winter coat helped one woman hide stolen goods until she was confronted at the checkout. “I ask her, what about the cheese?” said the owner of Simon’s Smokehouse on Fisherman Drive in Brampton. “’Oh, you mean this?’ And she pulled it out.”

To this day Melo thinks the woman was trying to steal more than one piece. “I should have asked her to open the coat,” she said. “But I was so shocked that I couldn’t think.”

The theft targeted the most expensive cheese in the store, a raw cow milk’s variety, St. Jorge, imported from Portugal. Melo estimates the half-kilo piece was worth about $16.

Melo said she suspected this particular woman had been in the store one or twice a year and regularly stolen from her in the past. However, this was the only instance Melo was able to catch her in the act.

While Melo did not call the cops, the thief was immediately banned. Melo also installed an additional camera in the 1,400 square foot store.

Sabbah and Melo aren’t the only ones dealing daily with this concern in their stores. According to a 2011 study done by the UK Centre for Retail Research, cheese is the most stolen food item in the entire world. According to the study, more than three per cent of the world’s cheese is stolen every year, more than other ‘high-risk’ items like fresh meat, chocolate, alcohol or baby formula.

And the center’s director, Dr. Joshua Banfield, said that with the price of cheese rising means much of the cheese stolen is for resale into other markets or to restaurants.

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