Shoppers at a Lidl supermarket in eastern Helsinki looking for parmesan cheese won't find it in the specialty cheese section, and will need to seek out a staff member to get it.
The reason is that shoplifters, who often target items with a relative high price-to-weight value, have stolen so much of the aged, tangy Italian cheese.
Pirjo Korpilammi, a regional manager of seven stores in the Helsinki region, said this has been the situation for some time now, and that parmesan cheese is by no means the only product shoplifters have their eyes on.
"For example, other products include vitamins, nuts, some meat and fish, alcohol and all products with a high kilogram price," Korpilammi explained.
A common practice at Lidl, she said, is to only put a few of those sought-out items on store shelves at a time, with a sign advising customers that more can be found by asking a staff member.
According to the regional manager, shoplifting happens on a weekly basis at all outlets and isn't more common at one store than others.
Shoplifting is also a significant expense for stores, which is why the problem is taken seriously. Korpilammi said the stores notify police about every shoplifting incident.
Cheese, lonkero and razor blades
The theft of cheese from grocery stores — as well as other foods — is a familiar phenomenon to authorities, according to Helsinki police inspector Jari Korkalainen.
According to police data, approximately 10,000 shoplifting incidents are reported in the city annually, and out of those just under 200 of those cases are related in some way to cheese.
Shoplifters also tend to pinch small items with high price tags, according to Lidl regional manager Korpilammi.
"Very typically, these incidents involve the theft of other foods and alcohol at the same time, cheese is just one of the products," she explained.
"Long drinks are a long-time favourite," continued Korpilammi, referncing a sugary soda-like alcoholic drink sold in cans and known as lonkero in Finnish.
"Also, instant coffee, razor blades and more recently, replacement brushes for electric toothbrushes and vitamins, are popular among thieves," she said.
Korpilammi said she reckons most of the food that gets nicked is used by the shoplifters themselves, but it's likely a different situation when a large amount of single items are stolen.
However, inspector Korkalainen said police are not aware of a resale market of shoplifted items or organised shoplifting operations in the city.
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