Source: Getty Images

Farm shop operators have been warned to be vigilant after a new study revealed a surge in crime.

Rural and commercial insurer NFU Mutual has partnered with the Farm Retail Association to give advice on how farm shops can reduce the risk of theft and other crimes.

The guidance has been issued following a survey conducted on behalf of NFU Mutual that found 83% of retailers had experienced crime, with more than two-thirds of respondents saying retail crime has increased in 2023. The impact of crime on their own mental health and that of their staff was cited by 27% of retailers as their most pressing concern.

Almost one in five respondents said they fear organised gangs targeting their shops, a concern highlighted last summer by a spate of farm shop raids in remote locations in north-west England and the Midlands. Seven shops in Staffordshire, Cheshire and West Yorkshire were burgled, with CCTV images suggesting the same gang could be responsible.

Emma Mosey, chair of the Farm Retail Association (FRA), pointed out that farm shop owner-operators often live on the site of their business, so the threat of break-ins is exacerbated by concerns about their personal safety.

“Break-ins and robberies have a lasting impact on the mental health of owners and their teams, as well as the short-term impact of loss of stock or theft,” she said, adding that security had been raised among FRA members as a key concern.

The survey found 82% of retailers had taken security measures to protect their businesses, with increasing use of bodycams (17%) and panic alarms (21%).

“Our study shows retailers of all sizes are unfortunately struggling as incidents of theft rocket in our shops, and we would urge farm shop owners to stay vigilant,” said NFU Mutual farming specialist David Harrison.

NFU Mutual has put together a security checklist in response to its recent study:

Advice for farm shop security

Make sure passive infrared (PIR) sensors are not concealed by shelving, reducing their full operating angle

Ensure detectors have not been tampered with if they are in an area of public access

Consider installing internal door sensors (not just external perimeter doors and windows) and ensure movement detectors are duplicated where possible if all entry points cannot be protected

Reduce cash on site by banking more frequently

Consider any on-site vending machines and removing the cash cassettes each night

Check the amount insured in your safe and make sure your insurers recognise your safe

Change your alarm code regularly and deactivate any older or lost fobs

Limit the number of high-value items on display and secure remaining stock within a robust, lockable store

Use customer service as a tool to deter thieves – greeting them lets them know they have been acknowledged and will deter them as they have been identified

Make sure store layouts are organised and tidy, placing high-value or items which are more desirable for thieves in monitorable areas

Regular stocktaking helps identify which items are being targeted

“Farm shops have sadly been targeted in the past due to their remote locations, so it is important for owners to take all the necessary preventative steps and keep the cash held on site to a minimum,” said Harrison.

“As a mutual serving farm shops across the country, we’re working closely with the FRA and our risk management specialists to reduce the risk of other shops becoming victims of raids such as these.”

News came this week that attacks on shopworkers are worsening, with two in five shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit every week. New research by the Retail Trust, a charity for UK retail workers, claims attacks on shop staff are worsening each week, with 41% of staff reporting being threatened or being victims of violence.

Industry leaders said the survey shows the need for ministers and police to do more to tackle store crime.