Thieves have historically targeted both warehouses and trucks at rest in the UK

Food and drink products were the most commonly stolen goods across global supply chains last year amid rising inflation, exclusive new analysis has showed.

Food products accounted for a third of all hijacking incidents around the globe, up from 25.4% in 2022 – showing the impact of the global cost of living crisis – according to data from the British Standards Institution (BSI).

Thieves in the UK too have been targeting basic grocery goods that have seen significant price increases over the past year, the BSI said, as food and drink products saw some of the highest levels of inflation in 2023.

Nearly a quarter of products stolen in Britain were food and beverages (24%) – a steep increase from the year before when food and drink thefts accounted for only 13% of total supply chain thefts – followed by apparel (19%) and alcohol (10%).

The “sharp price increases” felt across these categories over the past couple of years, paired with the fact “such products are always in high demand”, was behind the growth in crime rates, BSI supply chain solutions global director Jim Yarbrough said.

Food and drink commodities also made ideal targets because they were typically lower value compared with other goods, and therefore did not tend to be shipped with tracking devices or anti-theft technologies, the BSI explained.

Thieves have historically targeted both warehouses and trucks at rest in the UK – thefts from facilities were the most common type (33%), followed by thefts of vehicles (18%).

But criminals also target individual containers or trailers, often slashing the side curtains of lorries when they are stopped. Last year, one-sixth of thefts took place in parking lots, where there were less security measures in place.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors also recently warned of “rampant” levels of theft targeting freight during transit, posing “significant risks to drivers and businesses”.

Criminal gangs were “specifically targeting valuable items like tobacco and vapes, leading to potential harm to those defending their stock”, the group said.

According to a recent member survey, 100% of wholesalers identified crime as one of their foremost concerns.

In the run-up to Christmas alone, a trailer full of cheeses with an estimated value of £50,000 was stolen from Strensham services on the M5, while another full of household goods including washing powder and food was taken from the Hartlebury Trading estate near Kidderminster, according to West Mercia Police.

Thefts of food in transit are commonplace across the rest of Europe too – two such instances last year included the theft of more than 52 tonnes of olive oil in Greece, and when criminals targeted 200 hams in Spain before Christmas.