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Top 7 Most Stolen Items From Grocery Stores and How to Protect Them

September 10, 2021

Grocery stores have some of the narrowest profit margins in the retail industry, generally ranging from 1 to 3 percent. While this business model works well for grocers, which make their money on volume rather than individual products, retail shrink can be especially detrimental to a grocery store’s bottom line. With retail shrink hovering around 1.62 percent in 2019, that means that grocery stores could lose as much as half of their profit margins to shrink, much of which is preventable. 

Since shoplifting is the biggest source of retail loss, many retailers have invested in loss prevention solutions to protect their merchandise from thieves. An effective loss prevention program is more than just a one-size-fits-all anti-theft system. To create a successful loss prevention strategy, retailers must consider the type of merchandise they want to protect, how thieves might steal or damage these items and how to secure these items without disrupting the shopping experience. 

Today we’ll go over the 7 most stolen items from grocery stores and how grocers can use proven LP solutions to protect their inventory. 

Baby Formula 

Although baby formula is bulky and difficult to conceal, it’s one of the most stolen items at any grocery store at 3.1 percent. But the majority of baby formula isn’t stolen by parents who need to feed their children. In fact, the baby formula black market is quite lucrative, as it’s always in demand and retailers like to buy it at a discounted price from the “gray market.” 

To protect high-risk items like baby formula, grocers can use a flexible retail security tag, like CONTROLTEK’s SecuRing, which can fit any cylindrical product. Not only does securing baby formula with an EAS tag alert store staff if something has been stolen, but the tag itself is an excellent deterrent for thieves, who don’t want to risk getting caught. 

Meat and Seafood 

Because they tend to be more expensive than other grocery items, fresh meat and seafood are stolen from grocery stores all the time. Meat and seafood can be difficult to transport because it has to be refrigerated, but that doesn’t deter thieves. Professional thieves, like organized retail crime (ORC) rings, steal meat and seafood from grocery stores in order to resell them on the black market, usually to suppliers and restaurants. 

One of the most effective ways to protect meat and seafood items is with EAS and RFID labels, which come in many shapes and sizes and can be easily customized. Many EAS and RFID labels are made with specialty materials and glues for food packaging so they can endure cold temperatures and condensation.  


According to a study of retailers around the world, cheese is the most stolen food in grocery stores, trumping other high-theft items like meat, chocolate, alcohol, seafood and baby formula. In fact, 4 percent of cheese on store shelves ends up stolen. 

With the price of cheese rising, this presents a unique opportunity for small-time criminals, who typically resell stolen goods to other markets or to restaurants. Since cheese is fairly small and must be stored in a refrigerated area, it is difficult for grocers to actively monitor or lock away cheese to prevent it from being stolen. 

Like meat and seafood products, cheese can be protected with EAS and RFID labels, which can be applied to virtually any surface. Many grocers prefer to use RF EAS labels, since RF inlays are extremely thin and can be printed on, making them easy to brand or even disguise with a logo. 

Spirits and Wines 

Alcohol like top-shelf liquors and imported wines are some of the most expensive items on grocery store shelves — and the most stolen. In the United States, nearly 3 percent of alcohol is stolen, the highest rate in the world. Because alcohol often sells because of its brand recognition, it is also easy to resell on the black market. 

Some grocers even struggle with thieves who open a bottle of alcohol, drink from it and return it to the shelf, often without staff even noticing. To protect these high-value products without locking them up, grocery retailers can use anti-theft tags designed specifically for bottles, like CONTROLTEK’s BottleCap, which prevents in-store consumption while remaining easy for employees to apply and remove. The QuickBottle is another effective solution, thanks to its extremely tamper-resistant construction that eliminates product lockdown. 


As many retailers are probably aware, cosmetics and other health and beauty products are some of the most stolen goods anywhere, with 2 percent of sales lost to shoplifting each year. Because cosmetics are small and easy to conceal, even the most inexperienced thief might be tempted to steal something. 

Cosmetics can be challenging to protect, since grocery stores might have hundreds or even thousands of items in their inventory, but far from impossible. Rather than locking up commonly stolen cosmetics, grocery retailers have started using EAS and RFID labels, which are small and thin enough to work for any size and shape of cosmetics they want to secure. Retail security labels are very simple to apply, so grocers can ensure that all items are tagged. 

Over-the-Counter Medicine 

Medications like ibuprofen, antihistamines, and even weight-loss drugs are another high-theft item in grocery stores. Like other commonly stolen grocery items, OTC medications can be easily and quickly sold on the gray market due to strong brand recognition. 

While some over-the-counter medications are traditionally locked up behind the pharmacist’s counter, popular items still have to remain on shelves for easy accessibility. To protect these items, grocers can use EAS and RFID labels, which won’t weigh down medicine bottles or prevent customers from reading the drug facts. 

Frozen Items 

While it seems inconvenient or even uncomfortable for thieves to smuggle frozen items out of grocery stores, it still happens. To prevent these items from being stolen without anyone knowing, grocers can use EAS and RFID labels with special adhesives designed to withstand extreme temperatures, like the inside of a commercial freezer. 

Start Combatting  Shrink in Your Grocery Store Today 

Partnering with CONTROLTEK to create a successful loss prevention strategy will help you combat shrink and theft in your stores. At CONTROLTEK, we provide a broad range of retail store anti-theft devices, including AM EAS, RF EAS and RFID systems. Our line of retail security tags and labels provide effective protection against shoplifting and feature multiple attachment methods. 

To learn more about how to implement a loss prevention strategy in your grocery store, contact us today.