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Co-op stores in England put baby formula behind tills to deter theft

<span>Photograph: Cecile Lavabre/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Cecile Lavabre/Getty Images

Co-op stores in England have resorted to putting baby formula behind the tills in some stores to stop them from being stolen.

A Brighton shop took action as the cost of living crisis continues to hit people up and down the country.

The Co-operative said it had taken the measure in a number of stores to trial a new deterrent to stop theft, although it would not say in how many outlets this was happening.

The move comes as the cost of many staple products continues to rise. A recent release from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that vegetable oil and pasta cost more than double they did year ago, with tea, chips and bread not far behind.

The ONS examined 1.5m online prices over the 12 months to September 2022, looking at the difference in lowest prices. Only three products are cheaper now than they were last year, including orange juice and minced beef.

The cost of an 800g tub of Cow & Gate follow-on formula in the store is £10.25.

The cost of infant formula has soared over the past year – with the price of the cheapest brand increasing by 22%. Even if a parent is able to access the cheapest brand, Aldi’s own label, the cash value of Healthy Start vouchers, £8.50 a week, is no longer enough to pay for the amount of infant formula needed to safely feed a baby in the first six months of their life.

Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the Co-op’s move was “heartbreaking” but not surprising.

“Due to the soaring cost of infant formula, families experiencing food poverty are being forced to resort to unsafe feeding practices, including stretching out time between feeds and giving their babies food which is not suitable, like porridge.

“Improving access to breastfeeding support and challenging the exploitative practices within the infant formula industry are vital in the long term, but we need action from government now. To protect the health and wellbeing of the youngest members of our society, the value of Healthy Start vouchers must be increased as a matter of urgency,” she said

Joeli Brearley, the founder of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said she had heard from a number of mothers in recent months “who are struggling to afford formula milk” and “don’t know where to turn”.

“You can only imagine the absolute despair,” she said. “Many of these women are trying to survive on measly maternity pay, which is just 47% of the national minimum wage, and they get themselves into serious levels of debt as a result. We need a parental pay and leave system that values this critical period of a child’s life, and a childcare system that doesn’t push parents (usually mothers) out of their jobs and on to benefits.”

In 2022, Sainsbury’s put security tags on formulas to stop them being stolen. At the time, it said the decision to place security tags on lower value items could vary from store to store. It added that baby formula, essential for most infants, had suffered supply chain issues resulting in shortages in the UK and the US in the past two years, with the US particularly hard-hit.

A spokesperson from the Co-op said: “Like all retailers, Co-op trials new deterrents to deter the theft of higher value products, including use of new packaging designs with security tags and GPS tracking. “The decision to remove baby formula from shelves has been taken by the store locally. The product has been prone to theft in the store. It is not a UK-wide policy.”