OLIVE oil is nicknamed ‘liquid gold’ in Spain- perhaps a very apt description these days with prices tripling in the last two years as supermarkets respond dramatically by locking and chaining up bottles on display shelves.
A succession of poor olive harvests caused by drought has led to sky-rocketing prices.
One-litre bottles of extra-virgin olive oil are selling for as much as €14.50 in some outlets leading to rising thefts and forcing some retailers to secure bottles and the larger five-litre cannisters.
“We are seeing a major surge in shoplifting,” said Ruben Navarro, the CEO of the Tu Super supermarket chain, which operates 30 stores in Andalucia.
“Olive oil has become an ideal product for them to steal, with organised criminal gangs reselling it,” Navarro said.
Since September, Tu Super has been chaining five-litre bottles of olive oil together and padlocking them to shelves to prevent theft.
“It is a crazy, extreme measure, but it has worked,” Navarro observed.
In some Carrefour and Auchan supermarkets in Madrid, one-litre bottles are fitted with security tags that have to be removed by staff.
STC, a company supplying anti-theft equipment to retailers, saw a 12-fold increase in orders during the summer from supermarkets wanting devices to protect olive oil.
Spain’s laws also allow chancers to risk being caught for shoplifting for the first time and being let off.
Stealing olive oil and other items totalling less than €400 is not punishable unless it is a repeat offence.
On a grander scale, police have dealt with thefts of olive oil from mills and last month arrested two people as part of a probe following an extra virgin olive oil heist amount to 56 tonnes.
Families in Spain typically buy olive oil in bulk for cooking but sales have dropped by 17% over the last year, with cheaper vegetable oil used as a substitute.