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Supply chain volatility has opened the floodgates for ‘opportunistic crime’

Food and drink theft was on the rise last year as battered supply chains became more vulnerable to crime, a new report says.

Skyrocketing inflation and global supply chain disruption, caused by the war in Ukraine and remaining effects of the pandemic, have left the industry more exposed to crime, a report by the British Standards Institution (BSI) revealed.

Food and beverages were the most stolen commodities on a global scale, with the amount of stolen goods “considerably” up by 2.8% in 2022, according to the BSI’s Supply Chain Risk Insights report.

This was because supply chain volatility opened the floodgates for “opportunistic crime”, said BSI global intelligence programme manager Jim Yarbrough. “Every time we have cargo out of place and out of schedule, we see the opportunity for theft to increase.

“Like if a shipment is moving on a long journey across the continent and may land at port or border crossing, but things are not processing at normal rate, that makes it easier for criminals.”

The food and beverage industry experienced the greatest percentage increase in theft relative to other sectors, representing 17% of stolen commodities in the year – followed by fuel at 9%.

Record high inflation also contributed to higher levels of theft, Yarbrough said: “Food and beverage items are always at the top of the list of things that will be stolen or tampered with in times of economic tension.”

Last year, olive oil producer Filippo Berio reported its biggest UK stock theft in a decade after £5,000 worth of olive oil was stolen from a distribution vehicle in Doncaster, when the driver parked in a lay-by overnight. UK MD Walter Zanre called the crime a “sign of the times”.

BSI said other recent examples included increasing instances of egg theft and smuggling due to shortages across all of Europe, and a spike in wheat freight being targeted after the cereal shot up in price when the Ukraine invasion  halted supply.

Theft from facility was the most common type of cargo crime last year, with 26% of reported incidents. Hijacking accounted for 17% and theft from container/trailer was 12.8%.

Criminals also identified and targeted weaker supply channels when retailers and brands had to set up new partnerships in order to ensure stock availability at the peak of the supply chain crisis last year, Yarbrough noted.

“Supply chain security is a tough business, it’s expensive and needs a tailored approach, so you need to work closely with your suppliers to elevate their security.

“Working with new suppliers and logistics companies opens up vulnerabilities and increases targeting from criminals.”

Read more: Soaring petrol prices see reports of fuel theft rise by 215%

The added woe of labour shortages and industrial action also proved a particularly tricky combo for logistics businesses.

“When cargo piles up and there are not enough truckers to move the goods, overflow areas are particularly vulnerable,” Yarbrough said, pointing to ports such as Felixstowe and European airports such as London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.

Just last year, Suffolk Police urged food businesses to assess their security arrangements for storage of cooking oil as organised groups were targeting premises to steal it and convert it into biodiesel.

Louise Manning, professor of sustainable agri-foods systems at University of Lincoln, warned food traffickers “are entrepreneurial and making vast sums of money”.

“The minute there is a higher deterrence in one activity, they’ll switch to another. There are some supply chains that are more vulnerable than others, and we need to make sure we have mechanisms in place to mitigate that.”

BSI CEO Susan Taylor Martin warned governments and businesses about the importance of managing supply chain risks following “the turbulence of the last 12 months”.

“2022 saw volatility in global supply chains that many would never have expected in their lifetime.

“Successive crises, including a global pandemic followed by a war in Europe, have resulted in continued uncertainty on many fronts and have demonstrated to governments the benefit of ensuring a robust global supply chain.

“2023 will be an important watershed for many organisations – with those that successfully manage their supply chain risks being more likely to thrive.”