25/10/2011 12:52 BST | Updated 25/12/2011 10:12 GMT

Middle-Class Shoplifters Target Luxury Cheese And Gourmet Meat

Forget bottles of booze and cigarettes, the shoplifting fraternity has gone gourmet as a new wave of wealthy consumers turn to pilfering high-end delicacies to subsidise their expensive lifestyles.

Research by the Global Retail Theft Barometer and Checkpoint Systems reveals that shoplifters are now targeting expensive cheeses and gourmet cooked meats instead of the usual culprits, giving cheese the highest theft rate among the grocery products stolen in Britain.

Historically, it's always been smaller high-value items that get targeted by light-fingered shoppers, such as bottles of alcohol, make-up and razor blade refills. However, the study has revealed that the shoplifting trends are changing, and it's gourmet foods that they're after.

With 3.9 per cent of all cheese stock being stolen, 2.94 per cent of cook meats and 2.7 per cent of quality seafood following closely behind, it seems shoplifters have acquired a taste for high-end, middle-class food favourites and will steal and pinch their way into maintaining that lifestyle.

"More people are stealing and they are stealing more," says professor Joshua Bamfield, the author of the Global Retail Theft Barometer.

"The problems with the economy, society, politicians and the banking industry have led many people to say 'It's alright to steal. I've got to look after myself because everyone is looking after themselves.'"

Shoplifters currently pocket £4.9 billion of goods a year in Britain, up 6.2 per cent from last year, making Brits the biggest thieves in Europe.