Organic avocados are expensive. So are fresh figs and heirloom tomatoes and the like. You know what’s cheap? Carrots. Which is why British supermarket shoppers have been weighing their produce as carrots at self-checkout stations, totaling than $4 million in supermarket theft in the past four years. The Independent reports the practice of ringing up expensive produce as a cheaper item has become so common that some shoppers don’t even see it as a crime.
A professor of criminology at the University Of London, Emmeline Taylor, first looked into this behavior at Australian grocery stores before realizing it was also happening in Britain. In one store, she found that receipts indicated customers had purchased more “carrots” than the supermarket ever had in stock to begin with, some up to 18 kilograms (about 40 pounds) in one trip.
Onions are also cheap, making them a popular decoy produce to cover for the expensive broccolini and non-GMO lettuce and organic medjool dates shoppers are actually buying. In 2012, a man was charged with stealing close to $600 worth of groceries from a London Sainsbury’s supermarket over the course of three months. The former international hockey star admitted he weighed other types of groceries as loose onions on approximately 20 shopping trips. Fun fact: Turns out that store didn’t even sell loose onions, but they were available as an option at the standardized self-checkout menu.
Is there some sort of technological solution to this? Maybe a camera that can detect veggie shapes or sizes in addition to their weight? With more supermarkets going all-digital and losing their human cashiers, decoy produce is a problem they’ll avoid solving at their own expense.