‘We are on our own’: store owners
Rise in grocery store thefts a concern for police, challenge for businesses
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As Shawn Sousa made his way through the checkout Thursday afternoon, he offered the Giant Tiger cashier a bit of advice: if you’re trying to stop a grocery thief, tip over their cart.
The unsolicited tip was prompted by a video he saw the previous night on social media, which showed an apparent theft at the retail chain’s 305 McPhillips St. location.
“I feel worried for the future. You keep seeing this more and more,” Sousa said, speaking outside the store with partner Jackeline Black and three-year-old son, Jamison.
“We’ve witnessed this before. Sometimes, we’re right in the middle of it.”
The video, which was uploaded to Facebook on Wednesday night, shows Giant Tiger staff members struggling against two women, who appeared to be trying to leave the store with a loaded cart. The staff pulled on one end of the cart, while the women wrenched on the other.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I just walked in the door and heard somebody swearing… I saw carts banging, and I decided to pull out my phone and start recording it,” said Yolanda, who filmed the incident and asked the Free Press to withhold her last name.
She said she feared for the safety of her two children, ages 10 and 16, as she watched one of the suspects pick up a large, framed picture and throw it at one of the staff.
The staff member then released the cart, and the women fled the store with the goods.
Winnipeg police responded to reports of a theft around 6:51 p.m. Wednesday, Const. Jason Michalyshen said by phone.
An incident report was not available Thursday, and Michalyshen could not provide details. However, the possibility a suspect used an item as a weapon would be investigated, he said.
“It was some sort of a confrontation, and we’re still sorting through it,” Michalyshen said. “Where we get very concerned is if there is any form of confrontation or violence, because now that shoplifting incident potentially turns into a robbery.”
According to the Criminal Code, theft becomes a robbery if a suspect uses violence or the threat of violence to obtain stolen items. Charges can be more severe if the accused uses a weapon.
“A weapon isn’t always a knife or a gun… there are many things that can be used as a weapon. If (something) is used… in a violent way to harm or do significant damage to someone, then we are not talking about a theft anymore,” Michalyshen said.
A police cruiser was parked outside the retail location around 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Staff said officers were there to speak with the manager.
They also said the store had been targeted in a separate incident Thursday morning, when a man fled with two bags of goods.
The manager at the McPhillips location deferred comments to the corporate office in Ottawa.
Giant Tiger spokesperson Alison Scarlett provided an email statement confirming the office was aware of the incident Wednesday, but would not provide comment on the retail chain’s security policy.
“Publicly discussing the specific details of our security and safety policies could put our staff and customers at risk,” she said. “Please be assured that our approach is to work closely with our stores, staff and the appropriate community and industry partners always.”
Giant Tiger also could not estimate the amount of revenue lost at the location annually, she said.
Police data shows the area surrounding the store logged 33 reported thefts in 2022, a jump from six in 2021.
Meantime, Sousa and Black believe many crimes go unreported, saying they have witnessed people stealing from the store on numerous occasions.
“This is the first time we’ve seen staff fight back,” Black said. “They’ve told us (theft) happens regularly… It really sucks because it causes our prices and our groceries to go up further.”
According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, the national grocery inflation rate was 9.1 per cent.
A list including one kilogram of beef, two litres of milk, 400 grams of cereal and 340 g of coffee cost Manitoba consumers $28.93 on average in January 2022. In March 2023, that same list had risen to $31.07.
In January 2017, those groceries cost $23.97.
Inflation and substance addiction are causing a spike in theft, said Munther Zeid, owner of local grocery chain Food Fare.
Zeid used to pay to defend the five Winnipeg locations, but said the monthly expenses totalled up to $25,000. He has since stopped the practice, finding even security was not effective.Inflation and substance addiction are causing a spike in theft, said Munther Zeid, owner of local grocery chain Food Fare.
“There’s only so much a security guard will do for you… They’re there to basically be a deterrent,. but (staff) were stopping more theft than they were,” Zeid said.
“We are on our own, but we understand the police are under-manned.”
Many such thefts are brazen and co-ordinated, with suspects filling shopping carts and heading for the doors where an accomplice is waiting with a vehicle, he said. “Everybody suffers, the store owners, the customers — everything keeps going up. Somebody has to pay for that.”
Although shoplifting is considered a petty crime, it is still concerning for police, Michalyshen said.
“It’s a huge challenge for businesses, whether we are talking about large franchises or privately owned businesses… we respond to these, unfortunately, on a regular basis,” he said.
Police encouraged staff and members of the public not to intervene if they witness a theft.