Some things seem a natural for theft, such as electronics, cars, liquor, cigarettes and so forth, but Tide detergent seems pretty low on the list. However, there are a curious number of Tide theft cases going on nationwide, with the apparent motivation being trading said detergent for drugs.
Drugs for detergent swaps linked in trend of Tide theft
Last year, a number of reports emerged of a rash of incidents of Tide theft, where shoplifters would abscond with Tide detergent. National retail chains such as CVS and Walmart, according to Fox News and ABC news articles from March 2012, were reporting it was occurring at stores nationwide.
Fox reports a Walmart in West St. Paul, Minn., found $25,000 in Tide had been made off with over a 15-month period by a single suspect, one Patrick Costanzo. Costanzo, according to KSTP, a St. Paul ABC affiliate, pleaded guilty in March 2012 for the thefts.
Other stores reported similar thefts; according to New York Magazine, a Bowie, Md., Safeway called the Bowie police in March 2011. The store was losing $10,000 and $15,000 in Tide every month.
The heisted Tide, police have found, is being used for bartering for drugs.
An alternate currency
The way it works is that thieves will pull off a Tide theft and trade a bottle for a small amount of drugs from a dealer, such as a $5 parcel of crack or $10 parcel of marijuana. The dealer, according to Fox News, will sell the Tide either black market to someone who wants it or to a private retail store. A bottle of Tide that normally goes for $20 will usually sell on the black market for $1, quick cash for not a lot of work.
Police in Maryland have been referring to the stuff as “liquid gold,” according to NY Mag.
One of the first people to start making the scheme known as a Bowie, Md., detective, Sergeant Aubrey Thompson, who did a lot of the fieldwork discovering why people were stealing and fencing Tide for drugs. Thompson discovered the activity was relatively low-risk, high-reward; Tide bottles don’t have serial numbers so it isn’t easy to track.
Also, since the criminal penalty for shoplifting is far less harsh than for theft, thieves that get caught will do a month or two in jail rather than a year or two in prison.
Desirability leads to thievability
There is a reason for Tide theft. Tide detergent is one of the most recognizable brands, rated by marketing surveys to be one of the top three most recognizable, along with Coca-Cola and Kraft. It was the first liquid detergent when it came out, a dramatic leap forward. Tide is a $1.7 billion industry unto itself, nearly one-third of the whole detergent industry all its own. It’s a premium product, ergo it’s more valuable than some other brand. Thus it has a black market value.
Tide isn’t alone in being a target for theft. According to Forbes, other grocery items commonly stolen and fenced by criminals due to their desirability include meat, Gillette razors, infant formula, batteries and over-the-counter medications.