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Olive oil becomes most stolen item from Spanish shops

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By Jonny Walfisz
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The secret ingredient is crime. Olive oil has become the most shoplifted item from supermarkets in Spain.

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Olive oil is slipping through Spanish retailers’ hands. The kitchen staple has been nicknamed “liquid gold” as it has become the most stolen product from Spanish supermarkets.

Droughts and heatwaves have pushed the price of olive oil up in Spain, leading to its high commodity status in the country. In 70% of the country’s regions, it is the most shoplifted product from supermarkets, overtaking other popular delicacies like ibérico ham.

Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil on the planet and the product is a key part of both the country’s economy and food culture. The Mediterranean diet wouldn’t taste half as good without those healthy glugs of olive oil drizzled over basically everything.

But with the prices of olive oil being hit by inflation, wholesale price of the unctuous condiment have gone from €2.13 per kg in February 2020 to €8.88, with a 70% jump recorded just in the last year.

For shoppers, that has meant an increase of price from around €5 a kg to as much as €14.

Spanish shops have resorted to chaining together large bottles or fitting them with the sorts of security tags more often associated with top-shelf liquor.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Alejandro Alegre, security company marketing director for STC, noted that “there is no hunger theft” behind the trend. It’s rare for an essential food item to be stolen so frequently and the thefts are the result of organised criminal gangs.

These same criminals are reselling the olive oil on the black market. Next time you’re in Barcelona, would you be willing to call up a local dealer to just to fry up some padron peppers?

Olive oil
Olive oilCanva

The other staples Alegre pointed out as high on the theft list were “ibérico ham, cured cheeses, razor blades and alcohol.”

Spain is atypical in Europe for its preference for fancier food items as targets for thievery. Across Europe, alcohol theft is most common. While in Spain, items like cheese, bonito tuna and cockles are more likely to be lifted.

The 2023/2024 olive harvest is already behind us, and heavy rains saw production up from the historic lows of the previous year. A report from Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said olive production increased by 0.73% last year and prices are starting to drop from the mid-January high of €8.99.

Yet there is concern that while more land becomes available for olive cultivation, there is a lack of investor interest and seedlings to cover the area required to keep up with demand.

Additional sources • Financial Times

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