Thieves have reportedly attached eye fillet steaks to their stomachs and hidden bottles of Moët champagne in their bags as shoplifting increases across Auckland retail stores.

The sector reports “high-end” products such as meat and alcohol are increasingly targeted, and the violent nature of thefts is on the rise.

Police figures show the number of recorded thefts from retail premises across the Supercity have risen by almost 2000 in the past six months, compared with the previous six.

Recorded retail thefts jumped from 3348 between March and August 2020 to 5306 between September and February.

In 2020, police recorded 9438 retail thefts, compared with 8229 in 2019.

Farro Fresh chief executive Bryce Howard said expensive meat, Mānuka honey and vitamin pills are among items being targeted at the gourmet grocery store chain.

“Theft of meat is a big one. Eye fillets worth $100-$300 are tied around stomachs or put in bags and then they walk out the door,” Howard told the Herald.

“Or they pay for something small like a bag of apples, and they’ve got the meat around their stomach or pants.”

The worst-hit policing district for retail theft is Auckland City West – with 1761 incidents since March 2018.

It’s closely followed by Manukau Central with 1287, Albany with 1185 and Auckland Central East with 966. Henderson South and Mt Wellington South are also hotspots.

Theft is highest at Farro Fresh’s Epsom and Mt Wellington stores, where temporary guards are now placed during the week and on some weekends.

All Farro Fresh stores started selling Mānuka honey at the checkout at the end of last year as a result of thefts.

When it’s busy, some customers have walked out with whole baskets of groceries, Howard said.

An Auckland New World employee, who the Herald has agreed not to identify, said he’s noticed an increase in both shoplifting and aggressive shoplifting across all stores in the last six months.

A woman hid three bottles of Moet champagne in her backpack after three minutes of walking into an Auckland New World store last month, he claims.

“In the last month we’ve had three or four aggressive incidents where guys and girls are wanting to thump ya or not let the stolen goods go,” he said.

One man tried to steal a basket full of groceries worth $200-$300.

“I chased him up the road and he hit me with his car. I had blood coming down my arm and I was on the phone to police for seven minutes and they never came,” he told the Herald.

Foodstuffs declined to comment on any specific incidents.

“Shoplifting is a crime and stores go to great lengths to prevent it. Unfortunately, this is a cost to the store and inevitably to customers, making it a lose-lose situation for everyone,” it said in a statement.

Foodstuffs said stores can put preventative measures in place such as putting less stock on shelves, security tagging high-risk products and having plain-clothed staff.

Howard puts the rise in theft down to economic hardship from Covid-19.

Retail New Zealand chief executive Greg Harford suggests it’s because there aren’t enough consequences.

“We think the real issue for low-level petty crime is no consequences. Police are busy … if someone was prosecuted it’s quite a lengthy process,” he said.

“We’ve been calling for the Government to take a different approach, like a ticketing regime.”

Thieves would get a ticket for the first couple of times they stole items and then they would be prosecuted, Harford explained.

He said items will be increasingly kept under “lock and key”, such as expensive champagne.

Retail staff have to rely on police for prosecution, but Howard said if Farro Fresh workers spot a shoplifter, they try to “smother them with kindness”.

“We don’t apprehend them; we make sure none of our staff get themselves in the way of harm. We do follow the person, give them a lot of attention. It makes them uncomfortable and then they leave the products on another shelf,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harford calls for police to take retail crime seriously.

“Businesses would like to see more action from police to prevent and deter crime.”

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