In March 2011, a Safeway in Bowie, Maryland reported the repeated theft and loss of $10,000 to $15,000 a month in liquid Tide, a laundry detergent, known for its brand-familiar bright orange jug. The Procter & Gamble product ranks as one of the top three name brands customers are loyal to. A 150 fluid ounce container retails for around $20.
The local Organized Retail Crime Unit of the Prince George County Police Department, lead by Sergeant Aubrey Thompson, were bewildered. People were literally taking it off the shelf and carrying it out the store.
The Crime Unit reviewed weeks’ worth of video surveillance footage, finding more than two dozen thieves working in shifts, regularly pillaging the household product isle. The criminals would even return multiple times a day, timing it around shift change in order to avoid recognition and detection.
It appears the Tide theft has since gone national. But still no one understood why. Why steal abundant amounts of liquid Tide? And why were so many people doing it? Detergent made the National Retail Federation’s list of most-targeted items last year for the first time ever.
New York Magazine reports that prolific perpetrators were tracked down from surveillance and detained for questioning. The detergent was not being utilized as an obscure ingredient in a new street drug, but as “liquid gold” currency used to purchase drugs, bottles exchanging for as much as $5 to $10 towards the purchase of weed or cocaine.
Stealing items from a grocery store carries less legal penalties than muggings and personal property robbery. Unlike other commonly-stolen items, expensive smartphones and electronic devices, bottles of the detergent cannot be traced and are freely available to take off the shelves, not locked up or behind a counter.
According to the Daily Mail a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman, Sarah Pasquinucci, said:
“We don’t have any insight as to why the phenomenon is happening, but it is certainly unfortunate.”