A Tauranga woman walked out of a supermarket with a pushchair full of stolen meat in one of a string shoplifting stunts in which she and two others stole $12,000 of clothes, toys and food.
The trio is believed to have targeted shops and supermarkets in Tauranga, Katikati, Waihi, Paeroa, Hamilton and Cambridge.
The 24-year-old Tauranga woman was leaving a Cambridge supermarket when she was caught with a pushchair full of stolen meat, Sergeant Gordon Grantham said.
Two other women, 27 and 28, also from Tauranga were arrested.
A search of their car led to the recovery of adult and children's clothes, toys, canned and frozen food and baby products estimated to be worth about $12,000, Mr Grantham said.
"In this case the women had a car parked nearby to enable them to escape the scene if their shoplifting was detected. They also used the vehicle to store their vast quantity of stolen goods."
Police say it is the latest in a string of retail burglaries throughout the Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato. The incident has sparked a call from police for retailers to be on alert for thieves as the Christmas holiday season gets under way.
Bryan Welsh, store manager for Pak'n Save, said they have often encountered people from Rotorua and Hamilton trying to steal from the store.
"I don't think there is a particular method they use but the pushchair is popular."
Mr Welsh said meat was by far the most popular thing stolen, followed by personal products.
Staff have even caught people with eye fillet steaks down their pants, Mr Welsh said. He doubted the excuse of poverty was to blame.
"Nobody steals a loaf of bread because they are hungry. It's always other things. If you are really starving you can understand someone possibly taking something, but not a deodorant roll."
In downtown Tauranga, a spokesperson from retail shop Hot Ginger said more shoplifters were in action because of the poorer economy but it was too early to tell whether shoplifting had increased because of Christmas.
"It can increase over Christmas but next week will be the telling time."
The spokesperson said thieves targeted the store all year round and favourite items to take were jewellery.
"We certainly lose money because of it but they don't care.
"It can be anybody, from little old ladies to someone young, you never know."
David Cairn, store manager at Sunny's of Mount Maunganui, said they were targeted by shoplifters so often the company had to re-price stock to make up for the financial loss.
"I think we only catch a small number. It's a pretty big problem and definitely coming into Christmas, there's an influx."
Mr Cairn said the store had standard shoplifting deterrents and while it was easy to spot teenage thieves "because they look guilty", others were harder. Shoplifters stretched across the different demographics, including young mums and elderly people.
"They could have goods under blankets in the pushchair and we wouldn't normally think anything of it."
Bayfair spokeswoman Nina Rivett said the centre introduced more security guards at Christmas time but had not experienced an increase.
When items were stolen, they tended to be small and easily packed away or disguised, she said.
"That is why we work closely with our retailers who have their own security measures in place.
"We also provide cameras throughout the centre and our security guards are trained to respond."