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More Australians shoplift groceries amid discontent with ‘rip off’ supermarket chains, food inflation woes

Sydney resident Don* has been stealing milk, vegetables and the nation’s favourite chocolate biscuits, Tim Tams, from supermarkets over the past three years.

The Australian marketing employee, who used a pseudonym to avoid being identified, says he doesn’t set out with an intention to steal, but when there is an opportunity, he pops things into the recycled shopping bag he carries.

The habit started towards the end of the pandemic, when Australian grocery prices rose sharply, hitting a high of over 9 per cent at the end of 2022 according to data tracked by investment bank UBS. Inflation have since come down to about 4.5 per cent, which still remains above the 2.6 per cent just before the pandemic.

Don says even his shopping bag is a measure of austerity because it limits his grocery purchases only to the bare essentials.

Food prices rose sharply amid supply chain issues but have not declined quickly enough despite economic recovery, sparking public furore over potential price gouging by the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths that controls two-thirds of the grocery market in Australia.

Many countries face similar supply chain and inflation woes, but the sting was greater for Australians after Coles and Woolworths each made a profit of over A$1 billion (US$650.6 million) last year.

The heat on the supermarkets intensified after Alan Fels, the former chair of Australia’s competition watchdog, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released a report on Wednesday saying the two chains might have been overpricing and had no incentive to lower prices because of little competition.

The practice was also prevalent across big businesses like banks and airlines, which have too much market power, the report found.