They used to make a beeline for high-value items, from expensive alcohol to razor blades.
Now cheese and cold meat top the target list for shoplifters, as cash-strapped consumers struggle to maintain their lifestyles.
Customers and shop staff stole a total of £4.9billion of goods last year – up 6.2 per cent on the previous year and more than any other nation in Europe.
And middle-class favourites are increasingly their targets, with fine cheese and packs of luxury cooked meat now the most frequently stolen items, according to research.
The theft figures were compiled by Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, who is author of the Global Retail Theft Barometer.
He said: ‘More people are stealing and they are stealing more. 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”.'
Historically, shoplifting was limited to small high-value items, typically expensive razor blade cartridge re-fills and drink.
However, the study shows that the problem has spread.
It said cheese has the highest theft rate among grocery products, with 3.9 per cent of all stock going missing.
Luxury cooked meat had the second highest, at 2.94 per cent, with high quality seafood and fish third at 2.7 per cent.
Among other items that have seen a big increase in theft are mascara, lipstick and other beauty products that are relatively easy to conceal.
The theft barometer was compiled in partnership with security experts Checkpoint Systems.
Russell Holland, the company’s sales and marketing director, told The Grocer: ‘You might have a good income and lifestyle and want to maintain it. There is no typical shoplifter any more.’