PUBLISHED: 17:42 EST, 7 January 2013 | UPDATED: 18:00 EST, 7 January 2013
Police have finally discovered why Tide laundry detergent is fast becoming one of the most-stolen item from shops and grocery stores in recent months – drug addicts are selling it or exchanging it to buy crack.
The pricey detergent – which has been America’s number one since it was first released in 1946 – is known as ‘liquid gold’ on the streets, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 of weed or crack cocaine.
In grocery stores, it sells at upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, about 50 per cent more than the average liquid detergent so is easily sold on to privately-owned retail stores for a profit.
Police first reported the strange crime wave sweeping the nation in March of last year and were baffled as to the sudden surge in theft of the highly-recognizable brand.
An investigation headed by Sergeant Aubrey Thompson in Maryland found some explanation as to why.
The bright orange jugs became ad hoc street currency due to the fact it was such a popular house-hold name – whatever the income – and people were not prepared to forego buying the brand even in recessionary times because it was associated with quality.
‘It doesn’t matter where the clothes come from, if you wash them with Tide, they do have almost this prestige wash to them,’ said Maru Kopelowicz, a global creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi.
During his investigation, Sgt Thompson found that the detergent was flying off the shelves.
Speaking about one grocery store in suburban Bowie, he told New York Magazine: ‘They were losing $10,000 to $15,000 a month, with people just taking it off the shelves.’
Detergent made the National Retail Federation’s list of most-targeted items last year for the first time ever.
Joseph LaRocca, founder of the trade group RetailPartners, who helped compile the report said: ‘Tide was specifically called out.’
Patrick Costanzo, 53, was arrested in West St Paul in February after police say he loaded up his shopping cart over a period of 15 months with the cleaner, wheeling it past workers
Also, stealing the detergent garners a low penalty conviction if thieves are caught – as opposed to mugging someone in the street, for example, or breaking into someone’s home.
‘They are smart. They are creative. They want high reward and low risk,’ Sgt Thompson said. ‘Theft convictions can come with a maximum fifteen-year prison sentence, but the penalty for shoplifting is often just a small fine, with no jail time.
‘It’s the new dope. You can get richer and have less chance of doing jail time.’
Unlike other commonly-stolen items such as smartphones or electronioc devices, bottles of the cannot be traced, and they are not locked up but freely available to take off the shelves as they are so popular.
Sundar Raman, the marketing director of Procter & Gamble’s North American fabric-care division, told New York Magazine of the surge in Tide thefts: ‘It’s unfortunate that people are stealing Tide, and I don’t think it’s appropriate at all, but the one thing it reminds me of is that the value of the brand has stayed consistent.’
From the East Coast to the West, some CVS drug stores have begun locking up their detergent while some cities have set up special task forces to tackle the recent spree.
Last year, a Minnesota man was arrested after allegedly stealing more than $25,000 worth of the product.
Patrick Costanzo, 53, was arrested in West St. Paul in February after police say he loaded up his shopping cart over a period of 15 months with the cleaner, wheeling it past workers.
A study of about a month’s worth of security tapes showed Costanzo making four to five visits a week for the product, among other items, from January 1 to February 7.
‘It’s like he put the pieces in there like Tetris pieces,’ said investigator Sean Melville of the West St. Paul police to ABC news.
‘He maximized that cart, there’s no wasted space,’ he said after watching the store’s surveillance footage.
‘We don’t have any insight as to why the phenomenon is happening, but it is certainly unfortunate,’ said Procter and Gamble spokeswoman Sarah Pasquinucci said in March.
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