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Grazing On The Inventory Is Stealing

“nom-nom-nom…great M&M’s!”

The key location of this story involves the M&M Store, which has locations in various cities around the world. This store sells M&M merchandise as well as M&M candy, which can be purchased by the pound using the ‘bulk’ purchase format (i.e. you’re in control of how much you take out from the dispensers). What you’ve bagged up is what’s taken to the cashier who then charges you by weight. The price per pound when I was there was $12.99 USD.

I was in line for the cashier at the M&M Store in New York when a group of people, which consisted of a woman and four boys, cut in front of me in the line. They only had one large bag of bulk M&M’s so I just let it slide.

As we were waiting in line, all of the people in the group started digging into the bag and eating large handfuls from it. Compared to my bag, which ended up being slightly over a pound, their bag was about 2.5 pounds. By the time they reached the cashier, they had gone through almost half of the bag.

Once the women got the cashier, the remainder of the bag was weighed and the price was calculated. At this point, the woman decides that the bag of candy was too expensive and walked away from the cashier.

At the time, I didn’t talk to them or tell them that they were basically stealing from the store, but in hindsight, maybe I should have chimed in with a not-so-friendly reminder about how bulk purchases work. 0817-11

I have mental images of a bunch of piggy people stuffing their faces with M&Ms while murmuring, “Mmmmm….crunch, crunch…..mmmmm.”   It’s times like this that letting someone butt in front of you in line may yield all kinds of Ehell entertainment value.

The family was shoplifting.  In that kind of circumstance, recording the action with a cell phone video camera would be appropriate.   If I had caught the thieving consumption of M&M’s on film, I might interrupt the sales transaction with, “Excuse me but you may not be aware that this customer has been stealing from you by eating a considerably amount of your inventory.  I caught it on video.”    It’s then left up to the cashier or manager to deal with the customer in the manner they deem appropriate.

I’d also be pretty tempted to speak directly to the mother, “I see you and your sons are eating much of what you intended to purchase.  It would appear that there is now a dilemma since the cashier cannot weight what is now in your bellies. ”   Notice that I did not directly accuse her of thieving…yet.    I’m giving her the opportunity to realize she’s been caught and to make it right without a whole lot of drama.     I’d wait for the reaction….such as, “Yes, we did make a mistake and I’ll rectify that with the cashier”, in which case no further discussion is necessary.  But if I’m told to F-off and mind my own business, in which case, I’d say, “I so sorry to hear that.   I and other customers will have to pay, via increased prices to cover inventory loss, for your theft and I don’t like subsidizing thieves.”  Then I’d talk with the manager as to what I witnessed.  Thieves deserve no mercy nor should they expect to be treated with cordiality.


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  • Louise August 18, 2011, 1:01 am

    I’ve only seen this happen twice: An older couple who took some nuts and a woman who gave her kid some candy. I didn’t say anything because I felt it’s a battle I wouldn’t have won. Maybe next time I’ll stop and say in a shocked voice, “You’re taking food without paying for it? You know that’s stealing, right?” And then walk away after giving them a disgusted look.

    I think people who help themselves before paying have this idea that shoplifters enter a store, look around furtively, shove stuff in their pockets and scurry out. They aren’t doing that, ergo they aren’t shoplifters. I’m sure some of them dismiss it as, oh, it’s no being deal, it’s just a handful of nuts, it costs hardly anything, the store can afford it, etc.

    It makes me sad that perhaps some supermarkets prefer to let that behaviour slide rather than confront it and risk a scene. I would be very impressed by a store that called someone out on stealing from the bulk bins.

  • FunkyMunky August 18, 2011, 1:26 am

    There IS a Wall of Shame at my local grocery store. It It a huge sign with photographs taken from the security cameras and a big heading that says “THIEVES”. There’s even a ‘Repeat Offenders’ corner. About a year ago someone tried to sue the company for defamation of character. As the store had clear evidence that the person was in fact a thief, they threw the case out. 🙂

  • The Elf August 18, 2011, 7:17 am

    I’ve been known to grab a drink when I’m shopping, and I always hand the empty container to the cashier. I get charged all the same. I wouldn’t see any difference with food, though I’ve never done that.

    Just don’t use the self-checkout! The things are designed to check weight and an empty container will set it off.

  • The Elf August 18, 2011, 7:17 am

    **Forgot to add**

    As long as the food is charged as a package, not by weight.

  • Cat August 18, 2011, 9:26 am

    Most stores these days have security cameras everywhere and security people to deal with thieves. Confronting someone who is stealing may be dangerous.
    I once was accused of shoplifting. I had left the store, was on the public walkway, and the manager rushed out and asked me if I had “forgotten” to pay for the item that was in my handbag. I was in my early twenties and not the street-savy old lady I am today. I looked at him with a blank expression as I had no idea as to what he was talking about. I had my brush, my wallet, and my lipstick in my purse-none of them new by years and all paid for long since.
    Then it dawned on me-he was calling me a thief! Incensed, I said, “No, I did not! Would you like to look?” It was his turn to be taken aback. He said, “No, you..” in a very hesitant voice. I ripped open my bag and shoved it up under his face. He said, “Oh, Ok.”, turned, and ran back into the store. I stood there, surrounded by on-lookers, and then I went about my business.
    When I returned home, I told my father what had happened and said I thought I should have gone back into the store and demanded an apology for being calling a thief on a public sidewalk. “No,” Dad explained,”the manager probably thought about that all day and how stupid he looked to everyone.” I never did find out why he thought I was stealing from his store.

  • kristin August 18, 2011, 10:26 am

    When shopping at the bulk candy in one of the older supermarkets, I was always glad that they had a change box – you put in a nickel or a dime for every piece of candy you wanted to sample before you bought more. Guilt-free taste testing!

  • Tabii August 18, 2011, 10:47 am

    Unfortunately, I used to work in a candy store and a very similar thing tended to happen. People would ‘sample’ from the candy bins, so we would have to go patrol and remind them that they really did need to pay for that handful of chocolate-covered pretzels they just ate.

    They also used to bring up bags of mixed candy to be rung up (each bag weighed over a pound, at about $11.00 a pound), and when they decided that $36.00 worth of candy, they’d leave without their candy, which we the employees had to take the time to sort out.

  • Chariset August 18, 2011, 12:52 pm

    I’ve seen my dear, sweet, clueless grandmother get a can of pop, open it, and start sipping while shopping. She handed the half-finished can to the checkout clerk and paid for it, but I just cringed. I didn’t even want to stand next to someone so oblivious.

    But now I see shopping carts with cupholders and the Coke label on them, encouraging people to grab a Coke while they shop. Thirsty work, this grocery business.

  • UK Helen August 18, 2011, 3:02 pm

    In my local supermarket, they sell grapes by weight, and because they’re not sealed up in a bag or box, some people eat them – it makes me so cross because they’ll stand there eating and then pick up more grapes, presumably with saliva-laden fingers which they’re smearing over grapes someone else will buy. Yuk! And I’ve seen people put a bag of grapes in their trolley, wander round the fruit department eating them, and then throw the remainder back onto the counter. It’s just plain stealing. They know exactly what they’re doing. Once I saw a mother and her kids all ‘palming’ grapes and eating them.

    I don’t know what the correct response is. In the past I’ve said things like, “If I see you doing that one more time, I’m calling security,” or, “The rest of us have to pay for what you’re eating, you know!”. Now I try to ignore it, and I only buy grapes in sealed-up boxes.

  • Enna August 18, 2011, 3:13 pm

    @ Margaret, that point the human stomach can take 2 pounds. If someone is buying grapes and they try one so long as the person buys grapes I think it is okay to try a grape – so long as they don’t take the mickey and trying lots.

  • UK Helen August 18, 2011, 3:32 pm

    Just to add…

    When I’ve spoken to people, they don’t look at me or say anything: instead their eyes sort of glaze over and they stare fixedly at something, as though I don’t exist and nothing just happened. It’s so fake, and it’s weird!

  • Louise August 18, 2011, 4:51 pm


    “There IS a Wall of Shame at my local grocery store. It It a huge sign with photographs taken from the security cameras and a big heading that says “THIEVES”. There’s even a ‘Repeat Offenders’ corner. About a year ago someone tried to sue the company for defamation of character. As the store had clear evidence that the person was in fact a thief, they threw the case out. :)”

    I love this!

  • Rob August 19, 2011, 9:14 am

    @Kristin: I used to throw a quarter in the bulk candy samples for a nickel box and snack on the five pieces of candy while shopping. If I didn’t have change I would sometimes put in a dollar and pre-pay for my next three shopping trips. It would have been amusing if I had ever been confronted by another customer or employee about ‘stealing’!

    @uggybay & chariset: I guess we will have to agree to disagree about drinking or eating a non-bulk item before paying for it. As long as you have cash on hand to pay for it I see nothing wrong with it and occasionally do it myself. Part of the legal definition of theft is “intent to deprive the rightful owner of use or compensation”. As long as you pay for the item and make sure you have the cash (never know when the debit machine will go belly up) you are not stealing by any legal definition.

    @Enna: Grapes are the one bulk item that I will sample but sorry I can’t guarantee I will buy the bag. The reason I’m trying one is to see if the bunch is sweet or sour so I’m not likely to purchase if the grape I tried is sour.

    @Rachel: Are you talking about M&M store policy RE not confronting thieves because I can guarantee you that’s not policy at all stores. I recently saw a very young couple getting a very confrontational tongue lashing by an older supermarket employee about the unpaid for apples they were blatantly eating.

  • Ginger 630 August 19, 2011, 3:14 pm

    One of my coworkers told me this story about one of the families at our school (we’re both teachers):

    The mother was shopping with her children. The youngest was in the shopping cart. The mother took a bag of chips, opened it and let the child snack on the chips. Before they went to the check-out, the mother took the almost empty chip bag and THREW IT over to another aisle. As in, threw it over to the next aisle. Without paying for it. Ew. My coworker was horrified.

    Incidently, the children of this woman never have money for our vending machines, but always sit next to kids that do…they walk around the cafeteria asking for chips or candy or even money! What a lovely lesson to teach your children – don’t buy anything, just steal or ask for the food. I tell my own students that they aren’t allowed to ask for a chip or piece of candy…only take one when offered. I’ve asked this children to sit down and stop asking other students for their snacks. I don’t think it’s fair to the parents of the kids who do give their kids some quarters for a bag of chips or put together a lunch bag for their kids…they don’t want to feed someone else’s kid!

  • Samatha August 22, 2011, 11:41 am

    I used to work in a grocery store for many years back when I was in highschool, and trust me when I say that not only did it never bother me at all when an old lady would hand me something she had half/fully eaten (as long as I could still ring it up as long as it was not by weight!) but my managers and everyone else I worked with did not care either. Sometimes people get thirsty or want a nibble, the last person I will judge is someone with a small child who forgot to bring a ‘be quiet’ snack or an elderly person who got thirsty shopping. You aren’t stealing anything. I once had a mom and her maybe 12yr old daughter hand me two banana peels once, I had to call a manager and explain to them that I had no idea how much these bananas used to weigh, but they did not seem to understand what they did wrong.
    My best friend used to work at a bulk food store and had to watch the bins all the time, mainly when children came in as parents would let them run around and sample candy. The big problem came with children old enough to read and everyone older than that – they had written “PLEASE DO NOT SAMPLE!” on every other bin (two deep) so it created a checkerboard type pattern. Easy to understand, you dont sample and they want to make that clear. Most people would put on a smug face when confronted by a manager or an employee and just say “oh, it didn’t say not to sample on that bin so I though it was okay to eat out of”. The nerve of some people!

  • Kate August 29, 2011, 3:34 pm

    Unless you have paid for the item it is property of the grocery store and it is not within your rights to consume it.

    I do not care if it is a packaged item or a bulk item, the store has likely not given you consent or invited you to consume their merchandise.

    I look at it the same as being a guest in a persons home, when refreshment or snack is offered, wonderful, however if I am peckish or thirsty I would never dream of rooting through cupboards and helping myself.

  • The Other Amber August 29, 2011, 5:47 pm

    Thank you, Kate, for saying exactly what I wanted to say. If you haven’t paid for it, it’s not yours. I don’t care if you’re going to be paying for it later – until the point that you actually do pay for it, it’s not yours.

  • justme June 16, 2012, 12:02 pm

    ugh. I used to work as a cashier in a convenience shop that sold bulk candy. We had a big sign that said BULK CANDY $1.25/QUARTER LB. The little bags we provided could hold about ten pounds if you bought heavier candy and stuffed them right. I can’t tell you how many times I would weigh a bag, tell the customer the price, and have them condescendingly respond with “Nope! A dollar twenty-five.” Depending on my mood, my reply would either be “Nope! Read the sign again.” accompanied by a pointed look, or I’d patiently explain that “The price is $1.25 for a quarter pound, sir. This bag of candy weighs 7 pounds, so your price is $35 dollars.” The customer would invariably complain about that fact that our bags did not hold exactly a quarter pound of candy (despite the fact that many of them were truckers who charged by weight of items transported, so I knew they could tell the difference in feel between 10 lb and .25 lb), and end with “Well I don’t want it now!” Health regulations prevented us from pouring the rejected candy back into the bin (since it was usually mixed up, and most people would stick their hands in the bags and snack on them while they were waiting to pay), so we had to count it as an inventory loss (some cashiers would put the bag in the back room for everyone to eat out of, but I’m always wary of community candy bowels). In short, why are people so dumb?

  • sevvy September 9, 2012, 1:00 pm

    This has to be one of my all time pet peeves, i used to work in a cinema that sold pic n’ mix and it frustrated me to no end to see guests eating their sweets whilst waiting in line, granted, many of them are quite unaware of what they’re doing, perhaps the intent to pay masks the fact that it needs to be priced first, and often i would let it slide (it was outrageously overpriced anyway and i always felt guilty advising them of the cost after they had already payed an extortionate amount for their tickets) but there have been many occasions where i’ve seen parents guiding their children around the pic n’ mix stall , telling them to taste each sweet (again, something that doesn’t entirely bother me, its better to spend money on something they know they’ll actually eat) but then to watch them eating great handfulls of sweets as they wait in line would often find me adding on an extra hundred grams or so (it’s a business after all, if we make a loss on the product, we have to hike up prices to cover that loss) there have been several occasions where the customer has pointed out that i’ve clearly added on the extra weight to which i will pointedly respond that i had to take an educated guess as to how much i had seen them eat, i usually said it in such a manner that people behind them in line would hear aswell, ensuring that the guests behind would snatch their hands from the bag and leaving the guest i’m serving with little room for argument.

    i appreciate that cinema’s are grossly overpriced, and now i don’t work there anymore i’m even less inclined to pay the prices, but the reason the prices are set so high on these particular products are due to the (sometimes) selfish actions of these people, just because they are not pre packaged does not mean its a free buffet.

  • momofeveryone February 4, 2013, 2:07 am

    i food shop w/ my kids frequently. i always bring snacks from home, but some days i just dont bring enough. i have no problem opening a box or bag of food i am intending to purchese if it keeps my 14 month old happy in her seat. every mom in the store has done this in desperation at one point or another. if you havent, your a better parent then me. i always pay for the food and i figure the cashier would rather hand me back a half filled whatever then hear my daughter cry for 25 minutes while i rush around like a crazy person trying to finish my shopping.

    • admin February 4, 2013, 8:58 am

      I have never opened food packages in a grocery store to feed any of my three children. I scheduled my shopping trips after breakfast if I took the kiddies with me, or after dinner or the weekend when husband could babysit. To open food packages to feed a child that has already eaten a decent meal is to reward a tantrum and facilitate a “gimme” mindset that believes drama will yield tasty benefits. If a child is having a meltdown, the solution is to cut the shopping excursion short, take her/him home for lunch and a nap and do your shopping at another time.

      • Jess May 14, 2015, 10:17 am

        As an aside, I have a massive issue with labelling a father looking after his children as babysitting. It’s not babysitting, it’s parenting.

  • Jess April 21, 2013, 3:23 am

    I caught my mother doing something like this once. We were shopping with my toddler nephew who was kicking up a fuss, and my mother gave him a packet of crisps off the shelf. I’ll give her credit; she did present the empty packet to the cashier so it could be paid for, but to this day I still cringe thinking about it.