Why Is Baby Formula Locked Up? (Do People Really Steal It That Often?)

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You’ve probably walked into a store to grab some formula real quick and been faced with a locked cabinet with the formula sitting behind it. You grab a store employee to assist you and go on about your merry way. But have you wondered, why is formula locked up to begin with? 

Baby formula has become a popular item for theft. Whether it is being resold, returned for store credit or cash, or mixed with drugs, baby formula is considered a “high shrink” item. Unfortunately, the cost of formula and the amount of theft that occurs on an annual basis has forced many retailers to keep it locked up or in highly supervised areas.

Read on as we dive deeper into why people steal it and how often baby formula is actually stolen from stores. It’s more than you might think.

Why is baby formula locked up in stores?

You may have noticed that many stores have started to keep baby formula in a locked cabinet. That means you’ll need to find a store employee and have them retrieve the baby formula for you. This may seem strange to you, but the security is for good reason.

While it’s generally thought that the main reason baby formula is stolen is that people simply can’t afford it, that’s not actually the most common reason. Though, it is understandable since formula is so costly and babies go through containers quite quickly. 

Believe it or not, baby formula is a hot item for many thieves, both stand-alone criminals and larger, organized crime rings. According to the FBI, a theft ring is organized retail theft that crosses state lines and involves the trafficking of $5,000 worth of goods or more.

It’s estimated that more than one-third of infants receive formula in the first six months of life, making formula a hot item with a big market. With such a demand for the product and a high price tag, baby formula is very appealing to thieves. 

The biggest reasons people generally steal baby formula are to either resell it, return it to another store for cash, or use it to mix with drugs such as cocaine and heroin. In fact, it happens so frequently that one San Francisco Bay area town reported the theft of large amounts of formula at least once a month.

Why is baby formula always locked up

Unfortunately, baby formula stays locked up in stores because it’s prone to being stolen.

Because so much baby formula is stolen each year, a lot of stores have decided that the best way to combat the theft is to simply lock up the formula, making it harder to steal.

While it may make buying formula a bit more difficult, it’s really an important security measure that many stores have begun to take in order to keep from having to raise the price of the formula.

Why is baby formula stolen so often?

Baby formula is stolen in stores a lot. And there are a number of reasons it happens.

Some of the theft is attributed to parents who simply can’t afford to buy formula, while most of it is attributed to thieves stealing it to resell, return to a different store for money, or even use it to mix with drugs.

Let’s dive into each of those a little bit further.

Parents who can’t afford it

The first thing that probably popped into your head when you thought about baby formula being stolen was because it’s expensive and some parents just can’t afford it. Right?

Well, not really. It’s not actually the most common cause of formula theft, though it certainly does happen. 

For parents who can’t afford formula, and whose income qualifies them for WIC or SNAP benefits, baby formula is considered an eligible item to purchase with these benefits.

That can help take the pressure off of some parents who struggle to afford the high cost of formula.

Sell it

Baby formula is expensive. There’s a real market out there for it, and if someone steals it from the store, then turns around and sells it even at a discounted price, they are making money.

Since parents can spend between $1,200 and $1,500 on national brands during a baby’s first year of life, there is a serious profit to be made when thieves sell the stolen formula to unsuspecting parents.

The danger here is that formula can go bad if stored improperly at a high temperature. It’s also a concern if the container were to get damaged or even worse, opened. And when someone steals it and sells it for a profit, there is no guarantee that it is being stored safely. 

It’s always a good idea to make sure that you purchase your baby formula from a store rather than online, at a garage sale, or flea market, as this could be just the type of place that someone may sell stolen formula. 

Return for cash at another store

A pretty common reason why people steal baby formula is to get money for it.

They steal the formula from the store, then take it to a different store, hoping to get cash for returning it. However, many stores won’t accept formula returns period, while others require a receipt when returning baby formula. Perhaps that is because stores have caught on to the fact that people are trying to profit off of stolen formula.

Of course, the return policy varies by store, so if you have baby formula that you do need to return, you’ll want to make sure you check the retailer’s website before hoping to return it.

As a drug additive

While it may not be the first reason you think of as to why people steal baby formula, it is often used as a drug additive.

Sometimes, baby formula is stolen so that it can be used to mix in with drugs such as cocaine or heroin. It allows the drug dealers to dilute or stretch out their product a bit more, making more money.

This is typically orchestrated by larger crime rings that steal a large amount of baby formula to mix with the drugs to sell on the street.

Is baby formula really stolen that often?

It’s hard to believe and maybe something you weren’t even aware of before, but baby formula theft is pretty common and happens often.

In fact, $4.3 billion worth of baby formula was stolen in 2017, in the United States. One of the country’s biggest formula theft rings was caught in a sting operation in Florida in 2009. The criminals involved in that crime ring were responsible for the theft of more than $2 million worth of baby formula annually.

Baby formula theft is not necessarily a new issue, but it is something that stores are trying to combat, not just for their revenue loss, but also for the safety of consumers.

By implementing security measures like locking up formula and not accepting returns for formula without a receipt, retail stores are trying to keep baby formula theft down.

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