Retail theft has become rampant across Europe in recent times—and thieves in Spain have been targeting liquid gold.
The crisis has forced supermarkets to put their olive oil supplies under lock and key just to prevent it from being stolen.
“We are seeing a major surge in shoplifting,” Ruben Navarro, CEO of Spanish supermarket chain Tu Super, which has over two dozen stores in Spain, told Reuters. “Olive oil has become an ideal product for them to steal.”
The group has been locking up large five-liter olive oil cans in its supermarket since September, and has found that the measure, although extreme, has helped curb theft.
“It is a crazy, extreme measure, but it has worked,” Navarro said.
Other retailers in Spain, including Carrefour and Auchan, have also implemented measures to tackle shoplifting such as using security tags on olive oil bottles that can only be unlocked by staffers.
Tu Super didn’t immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.
Liquid gold heist on the rise
Olive oil theft isn’t a new phenomenon in Spain. But in recent times, the country, which is the world’s largest olive oil producer and exporter, has faced extreme weather conditions that have led to a shortage in olives. That, in turn, has caused prices to spike exponentially. In the last two years, olive oil prices have jumped 150% in Spain, Reuters reported, turning the staple ingredient of Mediterranean cuisine into a precious commodity.
The situation intensified as other European olive oil majors, including Greece and Italy, also saw adverse weather conditions impact oil olive output.
“I think the biggest thing to watch out for is the quality of the olive oil,” commodity market intelligence firm Mintec’s analyst Kyle Holland told Fortune. He added that high temperatures and drought conditions could have an impact on the type of olive oil produced.
“The impact that we saw when oil prices were really high was people were switching out,” he said, noting that rapeseed and sunflower oils were some of the alternatives people resorted to.
Soaring prices coupled with an elevated cost of living have paved the way for sophisticated olive oil heists. In August, close to 50,000 liters of extra virgin olive oil—worth more than $550,000—were stolen from a mill in Spain’s Cordoba region. Elsewhere, in Greece, cases of large scale olive oil thefts have been reported as the commodity increasingly becomes hard to afford.
Thieves have also been diluting oil supplies to increase their volumes, falsifying shipping data and moving whole trees as part of the ploy.
“I think something that we hear from market players is that once the olive oil is bottled, it’s very, very difficult to tell where it comes from,” Holland said.
Producers are upping security measures in response to the growing thefts by installing new gates or guarding fields through harvest seasons.
The silver lining for consumers is that the price of olive oil is starting to cool down, Holland pointed out. With the new harvest, supply has increased and helped prices inch downward, which could make the oil more affordable in the coming months.
“A lot of people seem to think that prices are going to downtrend,” he said. “The general fact is that the prices were just simply too high before… and extra supply is solving the problem.”