Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Supermarket snacking - sampling or stealing?

Have you ever noticed someone snacking in the supermarket?Photo / Thinkstock
Have you ever noticed someone snacking in the supermarket?Photo / Thinkstock

They're the people who give supermarket shoppers a bad name. They blithely eat grapes in the produce section and dried apricots from the bulk food bins. Any unwrapped and mouth-sized morsels are fair game to these poachers. These are not people who look destitute or in need of a good feed either; rather they have a sense of entitlement and a canny eye for a freebie.

They'll use the excuse that they're innocently tasting the goods as a precursor to purchase but this is a feeble attempt at validation for often it's clear they have no intention of actually buying any of the purloined items. Someone who left a comment on Poll: Eating Grapes at the Market: Sampling or Stealing? summed it up nicely: "I don't see how valid the argument for 'sampling' the grapes is ... [P]eople don't bat an eyelid when they buy meat, fish, dairy, other fruits etc without having a taste beforehand, why do they suddenly give a damn when it comes to grapes? This strikes me as a retroactive rationalisation of something that they know is wrong."

The person who quipped "Carjacking: Stealing or Test-driving?" clearly considers so called sampling sessions to be downright theft. Dictionary.com defines "steal" as "to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right" which certainly seems to cover those who sample at the supermarket.

Yet the practice is clearly rife. A US poll found that: "25 per cent of shoppers admit to having stolen from a grocery store" and "36 per cent said they tend to 'sample' while shopping."

What makes so many people so blasé about supermarket theft? Possibly for some there's a blurring of the lines. We're often encouraged to try certain food (perhaps ice cream, peanut butter or fragrant cooked delicacies) in a supermarket if the supplier is promoting it, and perhaps those with poor powers of reasoning then assume the whole store is an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But a representative of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention told Forbes, "Most shoppers think it's okay to eat grapes. They think it's a free sample. But do you see a sign saying you can eat grapes? No. It's stealing."

Not long along I witnessed a woman allow her toddler to demolish a miniature bag of potato chips (salt and vinegar) as she shopped. Presumably her rationale was that the big multi-bag of these snacks would be scanned at checkout so she would end up paying for the eaten ones. I guess in her mind this compensated for the fact that they were in effect "stolen" for a certain period of time.

It's the unknown, the unforeseen and uncontrollable events that ruin a theory like that. What if the power had gone out in the supermarket and customers were unable to pay for goods? What if there was a fire alarm and the supermarket had to be immediately evacuated? What if the woman got to the checkout and discovered she'd forgotten her wallet? What if her card was declined? In such circumstances those chips that she'd given her child were very much stolen - whether or not that had been her intention.

"It happens daily in supermarket and convenience stores nationwide - digging into a bag of chips while waiting in line, sampling a couple of grapes in the produce section, opening a bottle of milk to appease a crying child" begins an article entitled Is it stealing to eat food in stores before paying for it? which tells of a "pregnant Honolulu mom who was arrested ... with her husband after she ate a sandwich in a Safeway store and forgot to pay, leading to the couple's two-year-old daughter being taken away by Child Welfare Services." Would that cautionary tale have changed the local potato chip mother's behaviour?

Our supermarket checkout operators kindly give my ten-year-old the magazine she's chosen once it's been scanned. Inevitably it is plastic wrapped; I suspect she selects it more for the piece of junk accompanying it than for the content of the pages. She'd like to open it straight away but knows that we don't own it until the Eftpos machine shows payment has been "Accepted" on its screen.

I've never stolen a grape either.

What's your view on eating food in a supermarket? Is it sampling or stealing? What about the potato chip example? Is that acceptable behaviour?

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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